Specialty Food Magazine

Summer 2019

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Harissa as a Gateway There's perhaps no better indication of the region's influence on the American table than the rise of that fiery chile paste and condiment from Tunisia, harissa, which lately has gone head-to-head in the hot sauce category against Thai Sriracha and Korean gojunchang. Dr. Jessica Harris, Professor Emerita at Queens College CUNY, New York, and author of The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent, says she always keeps a tube of the traditional f lavor agent in her cabinet, both for cooking and as a condi- ment. As an expert on African foodways, she has a deep appreciation for it, but notes there's much more to North African cuisine than harissa. "It's a lot more diverse and complex—and frankly a lot more interesting—than we might expect," she says. Nearly 700 years of Moorish rule and inf luence left its mark on the Mediterranean, just as France, Spain, and Italy brought culi- nary and agricultural traditions to Western North Africa. On the northeastern front of the continent, Egypt offers one of the world's oldest cuisines and one that has had a long dialogue with the Middle East. Berber communities, nomadic tribes, and of course African neighbors to the south, have also contributed to the diverse culinary history found throughout North Africa. "These regions have been in touch for virtually millennia and have inf luenced each other," Harris says. "They are interwoven." A New Food Frontier Each North African country offers a distinctive cuisine, and American intrigue in global food is part of what's driving interest, says Harris. "We are grazing the world," she continues. Culinary professor Hinnerk von Bargen calls North African cuisine a new food frontier for Americans. He teaches the cuisine as part of the Mediterranean course at The Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio and says students are captivated by the f lavors and cooking techniques, though he recognizes that he's giv- ing them only a small taste of what the region has to offer. "Talking about North African cuisine is like talking about European cuisine. The countries have cuisine commonalities and common characteris- tics, but the food varies tremendously," he says. "Many dishes have a sweet element to them, either as part of the dish or in a condiment." Indeed, it's that satisfying balance of sweet and savory f lavors found in dishes like Morocco's well-known lamb and prune stew that has become iconic to the region. "The unifying elements across North Africa are olive oil, lemons, olives, wheat, goat, lamb, and dried fruits," he says. Nuts, figs, dates, prunes, and apricots make regular appearances in savory dishes; legumes like chickpeas, fava beans, and lentils form the base for prized dishes; and wheat bread is a daily staple, often as quick-cooking f latbreads. According to von Bargen, cooking techniques found in North Africa preserve energy and water, with dishes like couscous (a semolina pasta) cooked with the resulting steam from a simmering stew rather than in a pot of boiling water. Charcoal grills used for meats—like lamb and goat and others that thrive in arid lands—are unique to the region, built narrowly to conserve on fuel. Fish, espe- cially tuna, is important to the vast coastal areas, and pigeon is used to make dishes like b'stilla, a savory pie. "One-pot dishes are big, too" he says, noting that the comforting "tagine" stews are named for the earthenware pot they're cooked in. "Tunisian is significantly spicier than Moroccan cuisine," he says, "and Morocco is famous for its spice mixes." Ras al hanout, a cumin-heavy blend, varies by brand and chef. "It's the North African counterpart to curry powder," explains von Bargen. Tabil, a staple spice mix popular in Tunisia and Algeria, is made with coriander, "Talking about North African cuisine is like talking about European cuisine. The countries have cuisine commonalities and common characteristics, but the food varies tremendously." 94 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE specialtyfood.com global cuisine PHOTO: LA BOÎTE

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