Sunday 21 January 2007

algeria's loubia b'dersa

These days I can handle a significant level of spiciness, but that wasn’t always the case.

As a child I remember my American father and grandfather threading home grown chillies on strings and leaving them to dry in the Australian summer. These were then ground into chilli powder which seasoned most of their meals the way other people use salt and pepper.

I could never handle the heat of their spaghetti bolognese or chili con carne.

I built up my own chilli tolerance from bowls of tom yum goong. I simply adore this spicy and sour prawn soup from Thailand and so I forced myself to endure the physical pain so I could devour bowl after bowl. I soon grew used to the chilli and became an addict.

As I ingested more and more chilli I came to learn that different forms take on different types of spiciness. Chilli sliced fresh is a very different kind of heat form chilli powder which is different again from chilli paste.

This recipe for Loubia B'dersa uses a few different forms of chilli: dried birds eye chillies, cayenne powder and tangy harissa.

Harissa is a chilli paste. It’s usually a combination of smoked chillies, garlic, olive oil and spices. It can be used as a condiment with a meal, like a mustard or chutney, and can also be used to marinate meat and flavour couscous and stews. It’s a vital element in North African cooking, particularly in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

This particular dish is a combination of various internet recipes as well as my own adaptation and additions. I figured since this is an Algerian dish, and has a chilli focus, it couldn’t be made without some harissa.

And the best thing about this dish is that red chillies are high in Vitamin C content, allowing a substantial increase in the uptake of iron from other ingredients (like the beans)!

Loubia B'Dersa (Algerian chilli)

Anna’s version of a common internet recipe. Serves 4.

400g kidney beans, canned
400g cannellini beans, canned
1 small onion, finely diced
2 small dried red chillies
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon harissa paste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 litre vegetable broth
1 fresh bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, tied together with cotton
5 sprigs fresh coriander, chopped finely
5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
Cider vinegar or red wine vinegar, to garnish

1. In a large pot heat olive oil over a medium heat and cook onion until tender (approx. 5 minutes).
2. Remove the seeds from one dried chilli then add harissa, chillies, garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, pepper and cumin and cook until fragrant (approx. 2 minutes).
3. Add tomato paste and stir until spice and onion mixture thickens slightly (approx. 2 minutes).
4. Add tomatoes and 1 cup of stock. Bring to the boil.
5. Add remaining stock, bay leaf and whole parsley sprigs and bring to the boil. Lower heat then cover and allow to simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.
6. Drain and wash beans, then add to stew. Cook until tender (5 – 15 minutes).
7. To serve, remove bay leaf, chillies and parsley sprigs. Stir through chopped parsley and coriander. Serve hot with rice and a dash of vinegar.
Note: you could easily use navy beans, which are much more common in Algeria but not available canned in Australia.
Since around 7,500 BCE chillies have been part of the human diet and have been cultivated since around 5,200 BCE. They originated in the Americas and were spread throughout the world by Europeans in the 1400s.

It’s actually the stem end of the chilli that produces the spiciness (caused by capsaicin). The seeds and inner flesh of the chilli retain most of the heat so removing them can decrease the spice factor.

They’re high in vitamin C, provitamin A, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium and iron. In fact chillies are said to assist arthritis as well as protect against tumours and gastro parasites. The pain caused by the spiciness is also said to trigger the brain to release endorphins and analgesics to create a sense of well being. I know I feel that way after a chilli dose!!!
Wikipedia has a great article on chillies if you're interested.

This week’s host for Weekend Herb Blogging is Scott from the Real Epicurean in the UK. Be sure to find out what else has been cooking!


  1. This looks really exciting. I'm really interested in Algerian cuisine.

  2. this sounds delicious I love nth african food...
    my sister is really sensitive to chilli and whenever I cook her something that's a bit hot she tells me that it's helping her catch the train to spicy central

  3. I dig spicay foods, however, they make me sick afterwards :Z

  4. Anna, this sounds wonderful. I'm so interested in the foods of North Africa. I've been to Morocco, but I think their foods are quite different. I have some harissa in my fridge, but no clue what to do with it!


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