Couscous and cauliflower rice are great alternatives to rice.
TASTY FRIED BROWN RICE
2 cups cold cooked brown rice
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
6 shelled medium small prawns, diced
1 tbsp diced carrot
2 long beans, cut into small sections
2 tbsp diced red capsicum
2 egg whites
2 tbsp fresh sweet corn kernels
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp chicken stock powder
1 tsp paprika powder
Freshly cracked black pepper
Dash of pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
Heat oil and sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add prawns, carrot and long beans. Saute briefly.
Add brown rice and toss over high heat. Stir in capsicum to combine. Mix and fry briskly over high heat. Season to taste.
Push rice aside and add egg white. Toss and fry until egg whites and rice are well combined.
Add sweet corn kernels and adjust taste with a little more sesame oil. Keep frying until rice grains start to “jump”.
Once done and rice is fragrant, dish out and serve at once.
HEALTHY CAULIFLOWER FRIED RICE
1 (300g) medium head cauliflower
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp red onion, diced
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
2 tbsp red capsicum, diced
2 tbsp green capsicum, diced
1 tbsp diced carrot
2 tbsp shiitake mushrooms, diced
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Sriracha sauce
freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1 tbsp canola oil
chopped spring onion and coriander
Remove core of cauliflower. Cut off the florets and wipe them dry. Put the florets in a food processor. Pulse for 5-6 seconds until the cauliflower resembles rice or slightly larger pieces. Do not overload the processor or the cauliflower will become mushy when cooked.
Heat sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add onion, garlic and ginger. Saute until fragrant.
Add capsicums and carrot. Stir-fry well till aromatic. Add cauliflower and saute until just tender but not mushy. Mix in the shiitake mushrooms. Add the beaten eggs and adjust taste with seasoning. Keep stirring until the egg coats all the cauliflower and is cooked,
Dish out and serve garnished with chopped spring onion and coriander.
SIMMERED CHICKEN WITH COUSCOUS
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
500g chicken, skin removed and cut into 6 pieces
150g tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
½ tsp water
2 dried dates
Adequate salt and sugar to taste
½ tsp chicken stock powder
1 tbsp butter
2 stalks coriander, finely chopped
Heat oil in a pan and saute onion and garlic till slightly browned and aromatic.
Add chicken, tomatoes, paprika, cinnamon and bay leaf, and pour in water. Cook to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring twice in between.
Add the dates and continue to simmer until chicken is tender and gravy is reduced. Add seasoning to taste.
For the couscous: Bring 600ml water to a boil then add ½ teaspoon oil and a big pinch of salt. Once water comes to a boil, take saucepan off the heat and add couscous. Whisk and cover for 3-4 minutes. When done, drain couscous and loosen the grains. Stir in butter, raisins and coriander.
Dish out couscous to serve with the chicken.
Walking into Kasbah is akin to taking a holiday to an exotic locale. The interior is bathed in soothing shades of blue and white, with beautiful Moroccan tiles lining the floor and colourful Moroccan mosaic lamps providing a dim glow to the surrounds. In the daytime, the space is dappled with sunlight, which lends it a dreamy, lazy afternoon vibe.
Named after the old citadels of north Africa, Kasbah is a haven for north African cuisine. Opened a few months ago by Algerian native Emir Benabid, the restaurant aims to introduce the Maghrebi cuisines of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to Malaysians.
“When I came here, I noticed that there was no restaurant that represents north African culture. There are many Mediterranean restaurants but it’s more Turkish, Italian or French food, not really north African. That’s why my idea was to set up such a restaurant. I want to show Malaysians what my food is like,” says Emir.
Emir first came to Malaysia a few years ago as a tourist and says he “just fell in love with the country”. Two years later, he returned and now lives here. In setting up Kasbah, he worked with his chef (he initially had a Tunisian chef but now has an Algerian one) as well as a French consultant to put together a menu that best represents the cuisine of the region he grew up in.
Given that there is a dearth of north African restaurants in Malaysia, it is highly plausible that you won’t know what you’re eating and the refrain “What is this?” is likely to be repeated ad nauseum. To get you more acquainted with north African food, here’s a crash course on what to expect.
For starters, definitely look into indulging in the many dips and salads on offer here (served with house-made bread). Like the Tunisian mechouia (RM12), an olive oil-rich, pulpy offering that incorporates tomatoes, grilled capsicum and onions in what turns out to be a luscious mixture that is light but also conversely indulgent.
Then there is the Moroccan salad zaalouk (RM12), a smooth paste-like concoction that features grilled eggplants, tomato, onions, garlic, olive oil and cumin. The eggplant is creamy and rich, but the underlying note here is cumin, which permeates the dip with lovely spice-laden tones.
The Algerian carrot salad (RM10), meanwhile, offers carrots, garlic, lemon, honey and cumin and is a fresh, flavourful combination underscored by pliant carrots and the slight sweetness of honey.
Kasbah will soon be introducing a new menu and one of the highlights is slightly more well-known dips like hummus (RM14) and moutabal. The former is a Middle Eastern staple made of chickpeas – Kasbah’s version is smooth and satin-soft. The moutabal, on the other hand, is made of grilled eggplants, garlic, yoghurt and lemon and is very creamy but has slightly bitter tinges to it, that may not endear it to everyone.
Pastilla is a Moroccan pie filled with chicken, honey, cinnamon and almonds in what proves to be a triumphant marriage of flavours.
One of the show-stoppers on Kasbah’s menu is pastilla (RM12) otherwise called a Moroccan pie. While the traditional recipe calls for squab (young pigeon), modern iterations generally use chicken instead. The pie features a filo pastry enclosure stuffed with chicken, almonds, honey and cinnamon. The pastry is light and thin but holds its shape, and the filling is really delicious – meaty but interspersed with the nuttiness of the almonds and the sweetness of honey and cinnamon. It’s an unusual combination – chicken and nuts, but it works spectacularly well here.
Harira is a flavourful soup made with lamb, vermicelli, chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley and coriander. Photo: Kasbah
Then there is harira (RM16) a Moroccan soup composed of lamb, vermicelli, chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley and coriander that is traditionally eaten to break fast during Ramadan. Although it is labelled a soup, this concoction is slightly thick, almost like a more liquid version of dhal. In Kasbah’s version, the flavours of the lamb and chickpeas really come through and you’ll find yourself lulled and sated by this hearty broth.
Couscous is a north African semolina staple that has become increasingly popular all over the world. Kasbah’s couscous lamb (RM31) does this meal justice, with cous cous that is softly yielding but also features semolina kernels that still have a springy bounce. The lamb kebab in this meal adds a meaty element and the sauce ladled on it (which is made from vegetables and spices like ras el hanout) adds rich depth to this delicious, wholesome meal.
Kasbah also has an extensive array of Algerian-style tajines (a slow-cooked, savoury stew that dates back to the 9th century and is named after the earthenware pot that it is cooked in). Of these, the chicken lemon-confit (RM25) is probably the most interesting. The dish features lemons that are preserved in oil in a glass jar for two months before being used. As a result, the chicken is perfumed by the fragrance of the lemons and you’ll detect the bright, zesty flavours of this yellow delight in every mouthful.
- Chicken lemon confit tajine. Photo: Kasbah
- Couscous with lamb kebabs. Photo: Kasbah
The eatery provides complimentary harissa (a hot chilli pepper paste), which you can spoon liberally onto your meals if you have a penchant for fiery offerings. The harissa is delightful – piquant and with just the right spicy kick. In fact, response for the harissa has been so overwhelming that the eatery is planning to start selling them by the jarful!
End your meal here with one of the house-made sweets, like the Algerian basboussa (RM7) which is made with semolina and orange flower water (a signature element in Algerian desserts). The dessert has an underlying sweetness and a light texture that makes it extremely easy to eat. It’s a lot like a suji cake, except for the addition of orange water, which gives it more depth.
Somewhat similar to suji cake, Algerian basbousa is made with semolina flour and orange flower water. Photo: Kasbah
As north African food is pretty foreign to most Malaysians, Emir says at the moment, the eatery gets more expatriate diners than locals. But he is heartened by the fact that the Malaysians who do come and try the food often come back for more. This, coupled with his desire to see more north African eateries in KL, has spurred Emir to open more outlets.
“We are planning to have more restaurants in two years, in tourist-centric areas like KLCC or Bukit Bintang. In Bukit Bintang, there are many Arab restaurants but not north African. And I think people will be happy to see that this kind of restaurant is now represented in Malaysia,” says Emir.
With the introduction of Kasbah, Malaysians can now try the many things on offer in north African cuisine.
100, Lorong Maarof
59000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2202 0206
Open daily: 11am to 11pm
Could a plate of couscous warm up relations between wary North African nations? A drive to win coveted Unesco status for the dish could at least get them talking around the same table.
The hearty meal itself, however, is a bone of contention between countries that haven’t always got along.
Who makes it the best? And given that the fluffy semolina can be topped with everything from fish in Tunisia to camel meat in Libya, what truly makes a couscous a couscous?
As with the “hummus wars” that have long roiled the Middle East, and West Africa’s furious debate over who makes the best jollof rice, couscous is a source of pride as well as regional divisions.
But the countries of North Africa’s Maghreb region may be about to put their differences aside with a joint bid to have the dish added to Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
The list showcases the world’s most precious cultural treasures, with the UN cultural body sometimes offering funding to countries struggling to protect their traditions.
There are as yet few details on the North African bid, but Slimane Hachi, director of Algeria’s prehistoric research centre, said that it would unite Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and Mali.
Algerian Berber women prepare couscous as they mark the Yennayer New Year in the village of Ait el-Kecem, south of Tizi-Ouzou, east of the capital Algiers.
It will not be the first time Unesco status has been mooted for couscous, but this time working together could prove the secret ingredient.
In 2016 Algeria announced a solo bid to win protected status for the dish – sparking outrage in Morocco where many feel they hold an equal claim to it.
Even the question of who introduced the basic ingredients to the region is hotly debated, with some crediting the Romans and others saying Arabs brought it in from the east.
French food historian Patrick Rambourg said the Berbers, an ethnic group spread across the region, were likely the first to rustle up a couscous – “long before the countries of the Maghreb that we know today existed”, he told AFP.
Another food historian, Lucie Bolens, has described primitive couscous pots found in Algeria dating back to the reign of king Massinissa 2,200 years ago.
Considered a Berber forefather, Massinissa united what is now northern Algeria with parts of Tunisia and Libya into the ancient kingdom of Numidia.
Couscous prepared in a tagine at a restaurant in Rabat, Morocco.
Rambourg argues the region should celebrate its shared heritage rather than fretting over who really lays the best claim to couscous.
“Its origins are a complicated subject, a slippery slope – and is it really that important” he said.
“For all the countries in the Maghreb, couscous is a part of their identity.”
The countries involved will have to come to a common position if they are to mount a successful Unesco bid, he warned.
“They’d have to show the historic permanency of the dish or its preparation, showing it’s a part of daily life for all the groups constituting a people or a nation and that it’s part of their identity.”
And they should probably downplay the huge diversity between couscous served up across the region, he advised.
A traditionally prepared couscous dish served at the restaurant L’Orient in Tunis, Tunisia.
Kader Abderrahim, a French researcher at the Institute for European Perspective and Security, said neighbouring rivals Algeria and Morocco might struggle to work together.
“There are such entrenched positions on both sides that it’s very complicated to find areas of agreement, including on a subject that might seem harmless,” he said.
“There is so much antagonism that has been built up for 50 years and that has got a lot worse, especially in recent months.”
Algiers and Rabat have eyed each other jealously since the 1960s, when Algeria’s new post-independence authorities refused to shift the borders set out under French colonial rule, leaving some areas disputed.
Freshly prepared couscous, with lamb, onions, chickpeas, and pumpkin, served in a home in the Libyan capital Tripoli.
Abderrahim said it was a paradox that the Maghreb “has not succeeded in integrating as a region”, despite “a common culture, a shared history, the same language and religious tradition”.
The Maghreb should be “stronger than Europe which is divided by language and history”, he said.
Fatema Hal, an anthropologist and Paris restauranteur who was born in Morocco, says Unesco recognition would be a positive step for the region.
“If couscous can help bring them together, all the better,” she said.
“But rather than putting all our energy into trying to get a label, we should be doing what’s necessary to preserve our cuisine.”
Promoting the region’s cuisine at its own cookery schools – which tend to focus instead on international cuisine – she added would be a good start. – AFP Relaxnews