This is one of a series of posts for Vegan MoFo 2010; my theme was a 'Virtual Random Road Trip', where I used random.org's random geographic location generator to select locations around the globe, I then attempted to cook a few dishes from the traditional cuisine of that place. I didn't have a lot of time between generating the locations and coming up with recipes (~ 1 day). So, lacking time to do proper research, I can't vouch for the authenticity of anything I came up with. However, they are what they are, and it was a fun theme.
This dish is called Rechta (rish-ta), a traditional Algerian dish often served on special occasions such as weddings. The dish is described as noodles with *unmentionable* in a white sauce, but it’s not the same kind of white sauce that may come to mind (like one made with a roux and some sort of non-dairy milk). This is more like a broth than a sauce in my mind, hence I took liberties with my version of the title.
“Rechta” are the noodles, which are traditionally homemade using a combination of semolina and regular flour. Ready-made Rechta noodles exist, but they’re probably not the easiest item to find in my neck of the woods…I didn’t even try.
This dish is cooked, like couscous, in a couscoussière (kiskas in Arabic) where the noodles are put in a steamer placed on top of a large pot. The broth cooks underneath and the pasta steams/cooks and becomes scented with the aromas of the cooking broth/sauce.
couscous steamer pot (couscoussière)
I don’t have a couscous steamer pot (though I'm sure an ingenious person could rig something up) nor did I make my own noodles. So needless to say, this is a bit off the mark for authenticity…I’m sure homemade noodles add a lot to the dish.
Someday, when I have lots of free time (one can always dream) and a couscous pot (I dream big), I'll try making the noodles and steaming them in the traditional manner. But in this instance, I cooked a pack of linguine and called it good.
The broth is a simple one created by simmering onions, chickpeas and spices (cinnamon, pepper, and salt). If you're in the mood for a spicy, flamboyant dish, this is not a good candidate. Think of this dish as a mild, aromatic broth, very comforting, with a gentle hint of cinnamon.
I kept wanting to add more spices to it, but I restrained myself to keep it as close to the original recipes as possible. Although not traditional in this particular recipe, I think a little cumin and orange zest would be nice additions to this too.
I read several different recipes: most called for turnip only, while some called for both turnip and courgette (zucchini). Some called for garlic, most didn’t. And clarified butter was generally used to saute the onion for the broth and to coat the noodles. White pepper is preferred, but I used regular black pepper.
Some recipes included a single tomato, which then was billed as “red sauce” instead of a “white sauce”…but the ones with tomato didn’t look very red or tomato-y to me, so I didn’t bother.
I cooked the chickpeas ahead of time in a slow cooker with the veggie broth and nutritional yeast…you could do that way to save time, or cook them while making the recipe. Also, I used parsnip instead of turnip.
I based the following recipe on this one and this one.
Easy Non-traditional Vegan Rechta
(easy because no homemade noodles/non-traditional because pasta was not cooked in a couscous steamer pot (and it's vegan))
1.5 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 cups water
2 cups no-chicken broth/ or rich veggie broth
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
pre-cook 1.5 cup chickpeas in a slow cooker with the 4 cups broth/water and nutritional yeast, and then add them to the pot with the simmering onion, garlic and cinnamon*
1, 4-inch stick cinnamon (or 1/2 teaspoon powdered)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large (or 2 medium) parsnip (or turnip), chopped in large chunks
1 large zucchini (or 2 medium), chopped in large chunks
6 - 8 pieces of chick'n-style seitan or tofu or similar
1 tablespoon olive oil ( or EB if you want/or other sauteeing medium of preference)
salt and pepper to taste
linguine or fettuccine pasta, cooked al dente
In a large pot, saute the onion, garlic, and cinnamon in the olive oil. When the onions become translucent, add the soaked chickpeas, nutritional yeast and the veggie broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 - 3 hours until the chickpeas are tender. Add the parsnip and zucchini chunks, salt and pepper to taste and allow to simmer for another 15-20 minutes.
About 10 minutes before serving, brown the seitan under the broiler or however you prefer, and add it to the pot.
Ladle the broth, chickpeas, seitan and veggies over warm pasta (tossed with olive oil if desired). Transfer remaining broth to a serving bowl and allow diners to ladle more of the broth onto their plates as desired.
Now for a little more exploring: Tassili N'Ajjer National Park
Located in the southeastern part of Algeria, deep in the Sahara Desert, this park is a conservation area for Tassili n'Ajjer mountain range. Impressive ancient rock formations and thousands of rock paintings dating back to 5000-6000 BC, indicate that this now desert region was once a fertile savanah, teaming with life. Tassili n'Ajjer National Park is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
For some views of the Tassili rock formations and rock paintings, you can have a look at this video:
Video: El MistaTour
Here are a few more rock paintings that I thought were interesting:
Source: Purdue University Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture