Algerian cuisine traces its roots to various countries and ancient cultures that once ruled, visited, or traded with the country. Berber tribesmen were one of the country's earliest inhabitants. Their arrival marked the beginning of wheat cultivation, smen (aged, cooked butter), and fruit consumption, such as dates. The introduction of semolina wheat by the Carthaginians led the Berbers to first create couscous, Algeria's national dish. The Romans, who eventually took over Algeria, also grew various grains. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Algeria ranked among the top ten importers of grain (such as wheat and barley) in the world.
Muslim Arabs invaded Algeria in the 600s, bringing exotic spices such as saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. They also introduced the Islamic religion to the Berbers. Olives and fruits such as oranges, plums, and peaches were brought across the Mediterranean from Spain during an invasion in the 1500s. Sweet pastries from the Turkish Ottomans and tea from European traders also made their way into Algerian cuisine around this time.
In the early 1800s, Algerians were driven off their own lands and forced to surrender their crops and farmland to the French. The French introduced their diet and culture to the Algerians, including their well-known loaves of bread and the establishment of sidewalk cafés. This French legacy remains evident in Algerian culture.
Makroud el Louse (Algerian Almond Cookies)
1-1/4 lb blanched almonds, whole
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs orange flower water (or 1 tsp lemon essence)
3 cups confectioner's sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the almonds and sugar in a food processor and process until the amonds are finely pulverized. Remove to a bowl.
Make a well in the center of the almonds and add the eggs. Stir in the eggs with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together. Knead with clean hands until smooth.
Cut dough into 4 equal portions and remove to a floured work surface. Roll one portion out into a rope approximately 3/4" diameter. Press down with the palm of your hand to flatten the rope to about 1/2" thickness. Cut the rope on a diagonal into 1" pieces and remove to an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake cookies for 12 to 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned. Remove to racks to cool completely.
While the cookies bake, bring the water and 1/2 cup sugar to a rapid boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and let boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in the orange flower water.
Place the confectioner's sugar into a large bowl. Dip each cookie first in the sugar syrup and then toss in the confectioner's sugar to coat completely. Place on a rack to dry. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Store in a well-sealed container.
(Recipe courtesy of www.Whats4Eats.com, Ethnic Recipes & International Cooking.)