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eat the cup 2014, part six :: all-geria

i'm soooo excited!!!!!! as much as i try to insert variety into "eat the cup", i can't deny that there is a certain sameness to some of what i end up with. northeastern europe, sub-saharan africa and large parts of south america have commonalities that means that the things can start to get a little repetitive when you have a lot of representation from those three areas. 

but today [actually last night], i got to do an eat the cup like never before, because algeria qualified to move onto the knockout round of the world cup. i have never cooked north african cuisine for eat the cup and let me tell you... i freaking love food from north africa. so much so that i just went for it and didn't even think to combine it with anything else. the complexity of the flavours involved, the variety of ingredients, the heartiness, the subtle french influence... north african food is a like a fantasy.

taken in brief, algeria's history does read like a kind of fantasy: it was home to the ancient city of carthage and a major part of the phoenician empire. later, it became part of the ottoman empire and a haven for corsairs- termed barbary pirates after the name of the berber people who inhabited much of northern africa- who struck fear into the hearts of europeans [they were known to conduct raids on european towns, capturing thousands to be sold into slavery].

the modern history of algeria is considerably less romantic and more tragic. colonisation by france led to power and wealth being concentrated in the hands of a minority and eventually to a popular revolution. since finally gaining independence, the country has faced autocracy, terrorism and even a civil war. their periodic elections have often been criticised as biased, even after opposition parties were allowed to participate fully. on the optimistic side, an almost overlooked part of the so-called "arab spring" of 2011 was that the algerian government lifted a state of emergency that had been in place for nineteen years.

so the current algerian national team arrived in brazil carrying the hopes of a nation that was once a pillar of the ancient and medieval world, a feared adversary and a wounded culture emerging from decades of painful struggle. the odds against them winning were about 1500-1 originally and have only improved to 300-1 now that they've survived the group stage.

but so far, algeria have been amazing. seriously. at the outset of the campaign, the only thing anyone was wondering was if they'd beat the record for total minutes of world cup soccer played without scoring a goal, something they could have done within the first half of their first game. instead, they struck first against heavily favoured belgium, before finally falling to a 2-1 loss. then they crushed south korea 4-2, scoring more goals in one game than most people believed they would get in the entire tournament. they stuck to their guns against a determined russian side to get the tie they needed to finish second in their group and become one of only two african nations to make it into the final sixteen. no team has looked more thrilled at their success. no group of fans has looked more awestruck and thankful for their team's accomplishment.

so this is my tribute to algerian cuisine:

first up, a tajine of beef with peas, pears and mint. well, i used beef. it would probably be more authentic to use lamb. more important is that you want the meat you use to have some fat. if you want to prepare a vegetarian option, you can use a meat substitute, but you'll want to add more oil, or some butter.

here's what you'll need:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion or 2-3 shallots
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste [i like using white pepper]
roughly a pound of meat [without bones]
2-3 pears, cored and chopped
2 cups peas [i use frozen ones, so if you use fresh, you'll want to add them later in the cooking process]
small bunch of mint leaves, chopped
1 generous cup of water
crumbled goat cheese

that's a long list, but it's really not very difficult to make this work. "tajine" is basically stew, it's about patience and layering.

LET ME EXPLAIN AFTER THE BREAK...



fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are limp but not browned. add the spices [cumin, coriander, fennel, cinnamon and harissa]. fry until well blended and fragrant. i recommend keeping heat medium, or shit will start burning.

add the meat, coat with the spice mix and continue to cook until browned on the outside. add the water. it should be enough to cover the meat. if it isn't, add more, because you want the meat covered. let the meat simmer like this for 10 minutes. add the pears and mix them with everything else. top up with a little water if necessary. cook 10 more minutes. add the peas. don't worry about mixing them in right now, just dump them on top of everything else. wait 10 minutes or so. if you're using frozen peas, you'll want to wait until they're heated up. this is an excellent way to tell when things are coming together, which is why i personally like the frozen option. when you reach this point, then you can stir the peas into the meat to mix everything up. add the chopped mint [reserving a little for garnish, if you want things to be pretty] and incorporate into the stew. let everything warm up for about 5 more minutes. ladle over the couscous [it's coming] using a slotted spoon. sprinkle the goat cheese over the top. leave the sauce on the heat for a few minutes if you need it to reduce. when it has a nice, viscous consistency, spoon it over the meal.

so what's with the couscous?

well, couscous is the national dish of algeria, so it's absolutely impossible to have a proper algerian meal without it. fortunately, it's a super-simple thing to prepare and you can easily do it while attending to your stew. you'll need:

2 cups couscous
3 cups water
4-5 figs, chopped
1.5 cups almonds, slivered

you can adjust the water to couscous ratio according to how much you need.

bring the water to a light boil. reduce heat to low and add the couscous. within about five minutes, the couscous will have absorbed the water and "puffed up". remove from the heat and stir in the figs and almonds. this is a really nice, hearty base for the tajine.

yum. trust me.

a special meal in celebration of a special team.

and once you've feasted on tajine and couscous, you might want to feast your eyes on...

mancandy of the match

i've already spoken of my admiration for the u.s. national team, but let's talk about an entirely different way of admiring them. let's talk about defensive midfielder and opportune goal-scorer jermaine jones.

dreadlocked teammate kyle beckerman has received a lot of lady-love on the internets since the tournament began, but my eye always drifts to jones.

i do love a man who can rock a hat
what's not to like?
gotta love a man with great tats
especially when he loves showing them off
show that pride, baby!
usa! usa! usa!
and now, since we've reached the halfway point in our little world cup adventure, here's an extra for you:

dom and kate [probably don't] pick the winners!

we had a little chat this afternoon to pick out the winners from the knockout round, now that all the berths have been decided.

brazil vs chile :: this is a repeat from the knockout round of 2010. dom predicts the same result- a brazil win- and i'm almost in agreement except that this one strikes me as too close to call. brazil are definitely the better team on paper, but chile fought their way through a much more difficult group. and brazil seem one twisted neymar ankle away from elimination at all times. should be a great game, though.

colombia vs uruguay :: both of us agree, this goes to colombia in a walk. even with suarez, i think i'd be inclined to put my money on colombia. but since suarez got his bitey ass banned [and right after i said nice things about him!], i don't think the rest of the team can generate the offense needed to overcome a team that hasn't dropped a point yet.

netherlands vs mexico :: neither of us think that mexico has what it takes to stop the dutch machine. despite some great playing and an exceptional goalkeeper, the oranje just look too powerful to get taken down this early.

costa rica vs greece :: the tournament's darkest horse against a team that got in thanks to an extremely questionable penalty. i'm seriously cheesed that cote d'ivoire didn't make it [although they did struggle to play as a team, for all their individual talent]. greece's characteristic tight defense slacked in their first game, but has since rebounded, however i think [and dom agrees] that the costa ricans are flying too high to give it up at this point. costa rica for the win.

france vs nigeria :: if france take this match seriously- unlike their last group match- they'll win this easily. if they don't take it seriously... we still think they'll win, but nigeria will make it tougher.

germany vs algeria :: i so want to say that i think that algeria could prevail and against some other competitors, maybe they could, but this is germany. ghana may have rattled their cage a little, but algeria has been a little lackadaisical on the defense, which will be a death sentence against the high-scoring mannschaft. fyi, dom tips germany to go all the way this year.

argentina vs switzerland :: no team has impressed us less at this tournament than argentina. i went in believing they'd win and i tip my hat to the tactical genius that is messi, but these guys should be way better than what we've seen so far. i'd believed that sergio aguero would win the golden boot for most goals scored, but instead, he's been a complete non-issue and has now been removed from the rest of the tournament with muscular woes. nonetheless, i'd be surprised if the argentinians had any problem dispatching switzerland, who were the runners up in probably the weakest group.

belgium vs usa :: dom and i were both excited to see the young belgian team strut their stuff in brazil [and that's not even a double entendre]. however, as talented as they are and as unbeatable as they've been, they don't seem as settled as one would want a world cup team to be. their play has been uneven, with moments of brilliance and moments of stupidity. team usa, however, have been rock stars. they fought their way out of the toughest group, overcoming two powerhouses to do so. dom and i both reflected a moment about this before coming to the same conclusion: usa will win and it will likely be the best match of the round of sixteen.

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