Today, let’s take a trip down memory lane, as I will tell you about a time that those under 54 years old cannot know about!
I am talking about a country that only exists in the memories of those who lived there: French Algeria, the country of Algeria before July 1962, whose residents could be identified by their strong accent when they spoke French.
I obviously could not close our feature on Algerian cuisine without speaking of “Pied-Noir” cuisine. The word “Pied-Noir” refers to the French from Algeria and, by extension, the people of European descent who settled in North Africa until independence, i.e.:
– July 1962 for French Algeria.
“Pied-Noir” cuisine is the Mediterranean cuisine of the French Jews and Christians from French Algeria. It is rich and extremely varied since it is the combination of the cuisines of three communities and religions: Muslim, Jewish and Christian.
It is a generous and family-oriented cuisine that found its inspiration in the North African and Middle-Eastern (Turkey) cuisines, but also Berber, Sephardic Jewish, European and Latin (French, Italian, Maltese, and Spanish) cuisines.
France and many other countries have now adopted a number of original pied-noir specialties. For example, and to name a few, merguez, mechoui BBQ and couscous. But there are plenty of other specialties that are originally from French Algeria.
The recipe I chose to make today is Algerian coca.
Pied-Noir or Algerian coca is a small traditional turnover, stuffed with a vegetable-based filling called frita, which is composed of bell peppers, tomatoes and onions that are simmered in olive oil.
The recipe I used is Aline’s, my friend Eryck’s mother. She was born in Algeria and immigrated to France in 1962. She is an excellent cook whose pied-noir memories are full of priceless treasures! The first cocas I tasted several years ago were prepared by her very talented hands. An authentic journey!
Initially, people used the word coca to refer to both savory and sweet recipes that were made of dough (bread, shortcrust or puff). Originally from Catalania, they eventually became popular in Algeria via Spanish pied-noirs.
Note that the plural of the Catalan word is coques when it is cocas in Spanish.
The origin of this Catalan cuisine specialty dates at least from the time when the Greeks were in Catalonia. Similar dishes include pide, Arabic bread, or pissaladière . The Catalan word coca has a Germanic root, like kuchen (cake).
Even if Catalan coca may be at the origin of today’s Algerian coca, it is important not to mix them. There are several variations of the Catalan version. Some Catalan coques are made with dough covered with various ingredients then baked, and typically eaten cold. Some others are more like a cake, whether sweet or savory.
But there is only one version of the Algerian coca and that is the famous stuffed turnover.
Regarding the stuffing, the majority of pied-noir Jews replaced the onion with garlic or they put both using the same ingredients as in slata mechouia that Mike recently prepared albeit in more simmered and reduced.
For my part, I made two versions and I much preferred the version with garlic.
Two special people were my “guinea pigs” for this great recipe: my dad and Mike’s and they both loved those cocas!
- 5 cups flour
- 2 egg yolks
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ½ cup water (more or less depending on the quality of the flour)
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 2 green bell peppers , seeded and diced
- 2 red bell peppers , seeded and diced
- 1 onion (and/or 3 cloves garlic), chopped
- 8 tomatoes , peeled and seeded
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 egg yolks , beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Pour the flour into the bowl of the food processor. Make a well and add the olive oil and salt. Knead by gradually incorporating the water. Then, add each egg yolk while continuing to knead. If the dough is not homogeneous enough, add a little water and knead again for a few seconds. Let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour.
Sauté the onions and/or garlic over low heat for a few minutes. Pour all the other ingredients for the frita.
Simmer over low heat for about 1h30 or until the liquids are completely reduced.
Spread the dough with a rolling pin and cut circles using a cookie cutter of about 3 inches in diameter.
Place 1 to 2 teaspoons of frita in the center of each circle of dough and shape semi-circle turnovers by folding the dough over. Seal by pressing with a fork or use a special turnover cookie cutter.
Brush each turnover with the egg yolk wash. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in a 350 F oven.