If you've ever eaten toasted almonds with a glass of sherry in Spain and thought "wow, I can't believe how good these taste", you were probably enjoying Marcona almonds from Catalonia. Marcona almonds are round, flat, dense and crisp and have a slightly higher fat content than other varieties. You can buy them roasted and salted, or plain and blanched, which are excellent for cooking and making Spain's delicious almond gazpacho.
Chorizo (pronounced chor-eetho) comes in two basic varieties, those that need cooking, and those that are cured like salami and do not. Many different products are available within those two families - spiced, smoked, unsmoked and so on. But they all contain paprika, which gives a vivid red colour. Chorizo being rather fashionable these days, there are some inauthentic versions available that do not come from Spain. To ensure quality to buy from Brindisa, or one of the many independent food stores that stock its products. Spain's premier ham, jamon iberico de bellota, is not readily available in the UK, largely because people tend to baulk at its price. It is produced from a rare black pig native to the Iberian peninsula. Its diet is rich in acorns. Even within the jamon iberico family there are varying grades of ham. Look to Brindisa and the famous London food halls for this product. Do not use it in cooking, and do not trim off the fat. Serve it plain, at room temperature on warm plates. A less pricey option is Serrano ham, made from white pigs, which is more widely available in supermarkets.
A staple of North African cooking, couscous is usually but not always made from wheat. In dietary terms it is not significantly different from pasta, although there is a common misconception that couscous is a wholegrain. During manufacture, the semolina of the wheat is coated with very fine flour to help keep the couscous separate on cooking. Some people think it is possible to cook couscous by rehydrating it in a bowl with hot water - others believe this simply renders it edible. For the proper perfectly fluffy texture, you need to steam it. A delicious alternative to regular wheat couscous is barley couscous, traditional in some regions of Morocco and now available in the UK from Belazu.
Originally from Tunisia, the fiery hot pepper paste harissa is now widely used throughout North Africa as a condiment sauce and as an ingredient in cooking. There are many different recipes, which contain chillies, caraway, coriander, cumin, garlic, mint and other flavourings in various combinations with olive oil. An interesting variation uses rose petals. Harissa is so strong that usually only a dab is needed. However, it is often sold in large tins - much more than the average British family is likely to need in a decade - so although it has a long life, do opt for the smallest pack you can.
In France, where Moroccan food is the favourite ethnic cuisine, North African style warka or "brik pastry" is much easier to buy than filo, which is common in Greek cooking. In the UK it's the other way round - filo can be purchased in supermarkets and warka/brik is hard to find, even in delicatessens. Despite what a recipe book may tell you, they are not interchangeable. The textures are quite different: filo is papery and multi-layered; warka/brik, when purchased ready-made, is more plasticky. Both are difficult to make from scratch, in the case of filo one needs other people to help stretch it. In some dishes using filo in place of warka/brik will produce an acceptable result, but it won't be the same.
126 Chiswick High Road, London W4, Tel: 020 8994 0752.
Andreas Greek Delicatessen
27 Old Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, Scotland, Tel: 0141 576 5031.
16a Moscow Road, London W2, Tel: 020 7229 6280.
www.belazu.com, Tel: 020 8838 9669.
32 Exmouth Market, London EC1. www.brindisa.com, Tel: 020 7713 1666.
46 Albert Embankment, London SE1, Tel: 020 7820 1117.
24-32 Vanston Place, London SW6. www.delaziz.co.uk, Tel: 020 7386 0086.
The Fine Cheese Company
29 and 31 Walcot Street, Bath BA1, www.finecheese.co.uk Tel: 01225 448 748.
Forman and Field
www.formanandfield.com, Tel: 020 8221 3939.
2-4 Moxon Street, London W1 www.lafromagerie.co.uk, Tel: 020 7935 0341.
R Garcia and Sons
248-250 Portobello Road, London W11 www.garciafoods.co.uk, Tel: 020 7221 6119.
Harrod's Food Hall
87 Brompton Road, London SW1, Tel: 020 7730 1234.
Harvey Nichols Foodmarket
109-125 Knightsbridge, London SW1, www.harveynichols.com, Tel: 020 7235 5000.Reuse content