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Loubia B’Dersa – Algerian Chili

October 7, 2009

Rose Buds2

Rose buds, cloves, Ceylon cinnamon, wild fennel, star anise are some of the flavorings and spices used in Algerian cooking. Algeria’s location made it an important country along the Mediterranean and Saharan trade routes. Its ancient history tells of a healthy commerce which brought much of the trading world’s goods across its borders. Exotic foods, rich textiles, perfumes, jewels, glass, metals, money, art, literature, religion all came into Algeria from the sea merchants of the Mediterranean. Danger also came, as country after country invaded Algeria, claiming its people and its riches, as their own. France finally let loose of Algeria in 1962, after 8 years of pitched battle. They left behind French bread, tomato paste, other culinary goodies and sidewalk cafes. Au Revoir.

The cooking of Algeria is sumptuous and cooking methods can be involved and recipes kept secret. All this makes me want to dedicate myself to the study of this cuisine. Tomorrow I am buying a tagine and jars for preserving lemons, limes, and oranges. To follow this week, a lovely Tagine of Lemon Saffron Chicken with Potato Crust by Algerian cuisine master Chef Zadi.

The recipe for this Algerian Chili is delicious and easy to adjust up or down the heat scale depending on how hot you like your food. The recipe calls for lots of garlic. Use it. You’ll be happy with the result.

I changed the traditional recipe just a bit. I used homemade vegetable broth rather than water. I never use any broth from a store. After years of searching, I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t taste dreadful. Broth is so easy to make and stores well in the fridge. Just throw an onion, celery, carrots, salt, a bay leaf, 2 cloves of garlic, pepper and parsley into about 10-12 cups of water. Cook on medium to low heat for about an hour, uncovered. Broth.

Dersa is a spice blend of ground red chilies, cumin, and garlic. Recipes I found on the Internet suggest using dried New Mexican chilies in the United States. I used fresh cayenne peppers, as I had some on hand. They worked very well in the dish. I also saw some recipes using harissa paste. I love harissa, which is similar to dersa but also has caraway seeds, smoked paprika, lemon juice, and tomato puree in it. If you want to use harissa in place of the fresh chilies or dersa, I think it would taste wonderful.

Loubia B’Dersa – Algerian Chili


2 cups small navy beans (soaked overnight or quick-soak method)
3 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
15 garlic cloves,
2 fresh cayenne peppers, seeded and diced (use more if you want a hotter chili)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika (I use California sweet paprika from Penzey’s)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
sea salt to taste (I use Maldon Sea Salt)
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped (I use cherry tomatoes because I like their sweetness.)
7 cups of water or homemade vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
10 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped (I use American from my garden. Amazing flavor and scent.)
10 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
Cider vinegar or red wine vinegar

In a Dutch Oven or stock pot, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion to the oil and cook until, at least, translucent. I caramelized the onion and garlic, just slightly, because I love that flavor profile in chili. Add the chilies, paprika, pepper, sea salt, and cumin. Stir over low heat for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until the mixture blends and thickens. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and a cup of broth or water. Bring to a gentle, roiling boil. Add the beans, the remaining 6 cups of broth or water. Add the bay leaf, cayenne pepper, and the parsley. Cook covered on medium heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

I cooked this soup for a couple hours, refrigerated it overnight, and cooked it for another half hour the next day. It’s traditional in Algeria to sprinkle some vinegar and coriander on each serving. Serve this with warm, French bread.

I adapted this recipe from The Vegetarian Table: North Africa by Kitty Morse.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 7:27 pm

    You know I’m not an adventurous cook. But thanks for the broth recipe!

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