Friday, November 12, 2010

Noodles and Chickpeas in Cinnamon Scented Broth, Or Vegan Rechta

**Post Factum:** 
This is one of a series of posts for Vegan MoFo 2010; my theme was a 'Virtual Random Road Trip', where I used'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.

Bon Appétit


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
Women gathering grain 5000-6000 BC, Tassili N'Ajjer, Algeria.

Painting of a woman planting with a pickaxe, c3500 BC


  1. I'm so impressed you went all out with this dish. I so want to stick my fork in and take a taste.

  2. arg i jsut wrote out a whole comment then i erased it on accident. it was huge so maybe thats a blessing in bother, ill jsut do it again!

    "But in this instance, I cooked a pack of linguine and called it good."
    lol i loved that, so many times you made me lol

    if it werent for this post i would NEVER have heard of a couscoussière. its neat to think of people (i was about to say ladies but lets be politically corret) using that for centuries over there! i love how the noodles would get "scented" from the broth! how nice and comforting that does sound! as do the simple, calm instructions from the author:)

    i cant believe that that picture is from 3500 BC..BC!and why is that horse looking thing jsut watching her work?? get in there!!lol

  3. I really like the mellow manner of this dish. Sometimes I just want something simple and rich with the taste of vegetables, and this looks like a perfectly soothing meal for nights like that. I can see cooking garbanzos in the pressure cooker and using the cooking liquid as part of the broth. Thanks for unearthing this recipe!

  4. I guess I'm kind of surprised, too, to see how delicate the flavors of this are. I would throw in some extra spices, too, and (without too much evidence) I thought equatorial cultures would go for spicier foods most often. But it looks good, especially your presentation, like a tower with chickpeas on top.

  5. Interesting looks yummy!!!

  6. Anything with chickpeas has got me interested! And now I want a couscous steamer pot thingie.

  7. Oh, to me this looks so good! This is such natural food for me that I feel right at home in your house today, and, yeah, I'm all cool with the pomegranates and persimmons in the background - will you post what you do with them? :-)

    Women gathering grain, though? I know this isn't your call, but I have my doubts...

  8. I love what you're doing here.. I think it's so cool that you're highlighting different cuisines!

  9. JoLynn's sort of like vegan noodle soup, but with more noodles than soup.


    LOL about the horse! I think he's super cute.


    That sounds like a good plan...this is a time when cooking the chickpeas in the recipe is essential to the depth of reminds me of a vegan version of chicken noodle soup, but with more noodles than soup!


    I was sort of surprised too, I was expecting spices all over the place. Many Algerian recipes I came across used more spices than this, but according to what I read somewhere...(didn't have time to double-check or investigate further)...Algerians traditionally don't use as many spices in their cooking as their Moroccan neighbors.

    Thanks Vegan in Brighton & Nicole/MuffinTuffin!


    Making this made me want one too! :)


    Boringly, I'll probably just eat them as fruit. But I did see a fun thing to do with persimmons on Vegan in Seoul S. Korea (Mipa's blog)...did you happen to see it? You cut the stem/flower part off and put a stick in the center, then freeze them. The skin comes off easily after freezing and then you have persimmon pops! They looked so good; I've been wanting to try it.

    The women gathering grain was just the title I found on the website I got the image from...who knows. Personally, I think they look like reptilian humanoids grazing...

    I'd love to hear your interpretation..could it be prehistoric porn? LOL

  10. So awesome! I love cinnamon in savory things.

  11. That looks amazing and I so want a cous cous pot. Just because.

  12. I am learning so much about different countries by reading your posts. great job! talk about taking vegan mofo to the next level

  13. You are making some really impressive meals this MoFo. Wonderful stuff.

  14. This is a good way to learn. A little food, some pretty pics. Then, I scroll back up to reread to make sure I got it all in. Who knew they had cinnamon in Algeria?! I just thought it was all dessert and couscous.

  15. "Another triumph my dear, another triumph!" (I stole that from Bob Cratchit, lol). Another phenomenal post, Rose! What an intriguing looking combination of foods and flavors this dish is. It sure makes my cooking today (potato soup and pumpkin cranberry bread) look dreadfully pedestrian.

    I too learned a lot from this post. For one, you can count me among those of us who had no idea there was a special pot for cooking couscous, and who now want one! (Just out of curiosity I went looking and found several on eBay and Amazon, priced anywhere from $35 to nearly $600! Of course, they're not as fun as an authentic, vintage one would be!)

    I enjoyed my virtual visit to Tassili n'Ajjer, a place I'd never heard of before. The video is awesome (and the music adds some great ambience while perusing this post!) I also clicked on the external link for "The Natural Arches of Tassili n'Ajjer" on the Wiki page, and it's amazing as well. What a starkly majestic and haunting place that is, and what an incredible planet we live on. Thanks for introducing me to a corner of it I didn't even know existed!

    The rock paintings are interesting too, and I lol'ed at dirtyduck's comment about the horse just watching the woman do all the work! (My horse would tell you he's not shirking, he's busy fertilizing!) ;-)

  16. I loved seeing the rock paintings, but then you probably knew that I would!

  17. Mo

    I like cinnamon in savory things too.


    I know, I want one now too...and it might also work well for steaming large seitan sausages...who knows?


    I'm learning a log as I go along really is interesting. I just wish I had more time to read about the different cuisines and cultures.

    Thank you Catofstripes :)


    I'm finding that cinnamon is in many different recipes...savory and sweet. I'm not in a mood for a dessert this round...too bad, because the desserts really kick butt.


    I know that line from A Christmas Carol! :)

    Your food doesn't sound plain at all, it sounds lovely and seasonal. Someone looking into your kitchen from a different culture would probably think the same: that it is intriguing and that their food is pedestrian...

    Wow, 600$ for a couscous cooker! I like couscous, but not quite that much! The 35$ variety sounds good to me.

    I didn't want the posts to become too much like some boring book report with the "tourist" stop parts, but I thought the rock paintings were fascinating; I love seeing ancient blows my mind. I also liked that video, because it seemed like the person who made it was really proud of being from there and wanted to share the beauty.

    LOL about the're right! The fertilizing is almost more important than the planting!


    I agree, the paintings are a wonder. Some are very beautiful, but photos of the ones I liked best all seemed to have very strict copyrights.

  18. That looks so yuumy! I think I need to come stay with you for the rest of the month, so I can eat some of this awesome looking and sounding food!
    That is some cool looking art.

  19. Michelle

    You're too cute! Sure, come on and Tony too...I promise I won't make him touch any tofu! :D

    I thought the art was cool too; it blows my mind that it's from so long ago.

  20. these posts are amazing! I love the recipes, the photos... and the random number generator to pick coordinates! You are awesome!!

  21. Amey

    Thanks so much. I wasn't sure how the theme would work out, but it's turning out pretty fun!


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