Tag Archives: North Africa

Pasta and Marco Polo

Marco PoloAs children, we learned the theory that Marco Polo, the famous Italian explorer who spent 17 years in China before returning to his native land, introduced pasta to Italy.

But the truth is Italians – and all lovers of Italian food – might actually have Arabs to thank for helping to make pasta an Italian culinary staple.

Although the Chinese have been cooking pasta for more than 4,000 years, Italians are more likely to have learned pasta-making techniques from Arabs who settled in the Mediterranean area in the 9th century, more than 300 years before Marco Polo left for his adventure.

Although they may not have invented pasta, no other culture has been as enthusiastic about it. Italians consumer between nearly 77 pounds of pasta per person on average in a single year!

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What Kids Should Know About Libya

Libya has been in the news recently as the United States and other nations enforce a “no fly zone” to help protect Libyan citizens who do not agree with their current government.

Without going too deeply into the situation in Libya, which may be overwhelming for children, it is an opportunity to teach kids about Libya and its place in the world.

Libya – whose official name is Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – is located in North Africa. It is the fourth-largest country in Africa and the 17th largest in the world.

The country is mostly covered by the Libyan Desert, which is one of the driest, hottest places on earth.

Some parts of the desert have not had rain for more than 13 years. The highest temerpature that has been recorded in the desert is 136 degrees Fahrenheit!

The majority of people live in cities and are primarily concentrated close to the coastline with the Mediterranean Sea.

Islam is the major religion in Libya. While most people practice Sunni Islam, there are also Coptic Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.

Arabic is the primary language spoken in Libya but there are many people from other countries living in Libya, including people from Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Egypt, and Italy. Italian and English is sometimes spoken in the larger cities.

Libya is a very young country – half of the people there are 15 years old or younger.

Fortunately, every child in Libya has access to a free education through secondary (high) school.

In fact, Libya has the highest literacy rate in Africa. More than 82 percent of the people can read and write.

Family is very important to Libyans and they are accustomed to living close to each other. There are more than 140 tribes or clans and people strongly associate with their tribe.

Libyan food is very similar to the rest of North Africa. Staples of a Libyan diet include: couscous, olives, soups, dates, grains, and milk. Following the meal, most people consume several glasses of black tea.

Libya is a beautiful, historic country facing many challenges but hopefully the Libyan people will soon be living in peace.

Libyan Desert

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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Soupa Avgolemono

Soupa AgvolemonoThis delicious egg and lemon soup comes from Greece.

I love the idea of lemon in soup; it sounds so crisp and refreshing after the often heavy soups we find in restaurants this time of year.

This recipe comes from a fun little book called The Mediterranean Cookbook.

The reason I liked this cookbook so much is because it really showed the connections among North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. I like anything that draws connections between people. And what better way to do that than through food!

This picture is from a website that is a big hit with me – www.athousandsoups.com. Check it out for more ideas!

Soupa Avgolemono

1 ½ quarts chicken stock

1-2 bouillon cubes

½ c rice

2 large eggs

2 ½ tbsp. lemon juice

Salt

Black pepper

1 tbsp. fresh parsley

Bring the stock to boil in a large saucepan, then taste it and if necessary add stock cubes to strengthen the flavor. Throw in the rice and simmer gently until the grains are just tender about 12-15 minutes.

Beat the eggs with a whisk until well mixed and frothy and add the lemon juice. Stir in about 4 tablespoons of the simmering stock, then pour slowly back into the saucepan, stirring constantly. Over very low heat continue cooking and stirring for  few minutes, just until the soup thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon lightly. On no account allow to boil or curdling may result.

Add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.

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Play It Again, Sam

You must remember this, couscous is just couscous . . .

OK, those aren’t the words to the song, but that was the sentiment of the cooking class I took at my community college this week. It was a class on Moroccan food – and it was awesome!

As usual, I took a lot of pictures of the food and I had a great time meeting new people, tasting new cuisine, sharing ideas, recipes, insider foodie information (don’t tell the feds!). But what I really loved learning about is our interconnectedness. Food really is a tie that binds.

In between sauteing chicken or braising lamb or marinating shrimp, the chef talked about how food is our common denominator.

It’s the thing that was left behind when countries were invaded.

It’s the common language of troubled areas of the world who seemingly have nothing on which they can agree.

It’s a map of where and how people lived – and shared their knowledge – centuries ago.

Like a lot of people, I have a busy life, and it takes something really important to convince me to break up my son’s routine and take an evening away from him.

But when I can come home and tell him about how and why people in Spain and North Africa both love pastillas and why people in Morocco, Lebanon, and Israel all love couscous, I feel like I’m not just doing something for me. I’m also giving him just a little more knowledge or insight that will help him go where he needs to in life.

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