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Berkoukes b'lham | Algerian pellets with meat

بِسْــــــــــــــــــــــمِ اﷲِارَّحْمَنِ ارَّحِيم

السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته


It's December... and in some parts of the Algeria (and the world) .... it's just plain cold! Whether Algeria isn't anywhere near the colder climate of more northern countries like Norway ... with a poorly insulated home and the constant going in and out, I really do get cold here subhanallah!

Today, I want to present to you all my friends an Algerian dish, called Berkoukes. It's too chunky and thick to really be considered a soup. But not quite a stew either. Maybe we should use the term Rachael Ray coined "scoup" which is a brothy warm dish that's a cross between a soup and a stew.

What is Berkoukes?

Berkoukes also called Aïche or M'hamessa or Abazine in some regions - is a hand-rolled semolina based pasta that is shaped like a little ball, but it is also an Algerian dish.  Berboukes is the larger balls, while M'hamsa is the smaller balls. It is consumed traditionally in Algeria or the North East of Morocco during the winter and mainly in January to celebrate the wealth of the Algerian harvest of beans and dried fruit and meats. It is a dish of rich wealth, comfort and generousity. I know myself, everytime I prepare it, it gives me the feeling of sharing so I send a bowl over to my neighbours. How Berkoukes is prepared slightly varies region to region, differently in 2 main ways. One preparing it in a savoury dish, like I am presenting today or two, in a sweetened version similar to rice pudding.

What goes into a savoury Berkoukes dish? Well, it really depends on the region. In the areas in Kabylia, dried meats called Quedid or Achadhelouh in Kabyle is added and the dried mutton fat called Khlili and cultured smen gives the Berkoukes of this region is very distinct flavour and charachter. Berkoukes of the Alger region are much more milder in flavour using either chicken or beef or mutton. And the Berkoukes' of the Oran region use the pungent spices of the spice mixture called Ras el Hanout. Some cooks make their berkoukes with a lot of sauce ... making it really like a soup ... or as Rachael Ray would say "choup" ... while other prefer their Berkoukes with less sauce.

This dish is really worth to be discovered because it is user friendly and not complicated to prepare. Of course, there are a multitude of different recipes as I have mentioned above varying slightly region to region, all of which a selection of vegetables, spices and more or less. But the key is to find the Berkoukes to his/her liking, to prepare what we love, more or less liquid, more or less identified following the assessments of each. A taste of course when it is very cold outside, hot, sprinkled with a drizzle of excellent olive oil with a good homemade Kesra/ Khoubz Ft'ir or even a Khoubz Chaïr ...

If you are not blessed enough to know how to traditionally prepare this little pasta or have access to a market which sells it - you can find in grocery stores a similarly looking pasta called 'pellets' or 'anci de pepe' or 'plombs' as a replacement for the authentic Berkoukes.

Berkoukes b'lham
  • 500g package of Berkoukes or small ball shaped pasta called "plomb"or "anci de pepe" 
  • 250g beef cubed
  • Handful (about 100g) Quedid diced  ๑۞๑ (optional)
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 carrot, diced medium
  • 1 courgette, diced medium
  • 2-3 garlic, minced
  • 1 TBS tomato paste
  • 1 large potato, diced medium
  • Harissa or dersa (or any hot pepper paste) to taste
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • pinch of ground caraway
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Half bunch (about 1/4 cup chopped) of chopped parsely and cilantro
  • Generous handful or two of green peas
  • Handful of precooked chickpeas
  • Handful of brown lentils (I use Puy)
  • olive oil/oil/smen
  •  salt/ black pepper
  1. Chop up the vegetable and meat(s)
  2. Brown the beef in oil. Once browned add in the aromatics - onions, garlic, carrots to sauté.
  3. Push all these ingredients to one side of your pot, add in the tomato paste. Caramelize the tomato paste for a minute or two.
  4. Then add in the water - about 2.5L 
  5. Now add in the spices, bay leaf, and lentils and Quedid if using  . 
  6. Bring to boil, then lower the heat to a low simmer.
  7. Once the meat is cooked tender, add in the half the herbs, chickpeas, courgettes, potatoes to cook for an additional 10m.
  8. Then add in the peas and berkoukes into the broth.
  9. The berkoukes generally will cook in about 15m, but keep a watchful eye on it, as it can easily soak up all the broth then burn. Do not hesitate to stir frequently.
  10. Once the berkoukes is quite tender, not al-dente! - stir in the remaining herbs. There should still little thickened broth or really sauce.
Serve hot with bread like a Kesra or any rustic country style bread like Khoubz chaïr  or Khoubz Ezraa

๑۞๑ If you don't have Quedid on hand, and probably most of you won't, you can sub a halal smoky salami for a similar flavour here, or leave it out altogether.
Some cooks like to add diced turnips called luft in Algeria also.
You can use chickpea or lentils or even both in this dish. It depends on your preference and what you have on hand.

If you would like to see recipes of other hearty soups for Winter (click here)

Bsahtkoum !
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    1. Mmmm Berkoukesh un de mes plats préférer masha'Allah !!!

    2. what is quedid please. thank you

    3. Salaamu aleikoum dear Sheikha,
      Quedid is dried preserved lamb meat, kinda like North Afican beef jerky. You can easily omit this in this recipe. But it does give an authentic taste.

      Thank you for commenting and reading. Have blessed day!

    4. Masha'Allah. Two questions about berkoukes - is it the same as pearl couscous in western countries, and is it true that it originated as the remains left from rolling regular couscous? Still haven't tried this dish but should insha'Allah - what's caraway seed in derja, and come to think of it, what's the difference between caraway/fennel/anise seeds, flavor-wise, and their names in derja? They all seem the same to me O_O


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