Category

Tunisia

Category

Tunisian Recipes 

When I think of the meals I had in Tunisia there was not one that was not delicious. From the Bambalouni and Samsa that I bought in the street in Sidi Bou Said to the Brik, fresh fish and many couscous-based dishes in various restaurants all over the country, there was never a disappointing meal. What did surprised me was the spiciness of many dishes. I was expecting lots of seafood, tomatoes and olive oil style food with some familiar dishes and ingredients from the Middle East, but the spininess was unexpected.

  In this north African country so many traders left their spices, culture and influence and it all blends together to make an exciting Shakshouka. This word means a mixture or things that stick together. Its also the name of a popular dish and I will share the recipe later. 5000 BC the Berbers were the nomads that travelled around in this country. Since then the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Spanish, French, Arabs, Jews, and Turks all had a say in this country at one time or another. They all left their mark in the food that has become traditional Tunisian food. 

Hrissa, or harissa as the westerners say it, has become a favourite ingredient of mine. Every household in Tunisia has their own recipe for this sauce made with red chilli, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, caraway and whatever else your tastebuds desire. When I have a home with a kitchen I always have hrissa in my fridge. 

 My Hrissa recipe:Put16 sun-dried red chilies, seeded and stemmed, in a bowl of very hot water for about an hour. Dry roast 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon coriander seeds in a skillet for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Then grind to powder with a mortar and pestle. Drain chillies and, using scissors, cut them into smaller pieces. Put them into a food processors with the garlic, salt and spices. Process for about a minute. Then while processing gradually add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When you have a nice smooth paste transfer to a jar or container and cover with a layer of olive oil. Remember every time you scoop out some hrissa to top up the olive oil. This will keep for about a month in the fridge. 

Shakshouka recipe:

About 6 tomatoes, peeled and diced; 2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips; 2 Onions diced; Artichoke hearts / potatoes optional;

Eggs; 2 garlic cloves crushed;

2 tablespoons of tomato paste; Olive oil;

1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin and of coriander;

1/4 teaspoon ground caraway; 1 tablespoon hrissa;

1/2 cup of water; Salt and pepper to taste

I like to make this in a cast-iron pan and serve it from the pan. I have also done individual servings in smaller cast-iron pans. 

Heat olive oil in a skillet and fry onions and garlic till onions are translucent. Add rest of the ingredients, mix, cover and cook over low heat. After about 20 min break the eggs onto the mixture. Cover and cook till the egg white is done to your liking. 

Recipes from the cooking class of Madame Rabaa, translated by her daughter Mariem.  https://www.homestay.com/tunisia/sousse

Brik 

This is dough rolled out thin, made into pockets or folders, filled with whatever you would like – fish, veggies, meat, egg etc. Then deep fried or baked in the oven. Its a very popular starter in Tunisia. I recently read a foodie saying its touristy thing to eat. Well, I’m one of those. The first time I had it the waiter put this plate in front of me with what looked like a baked pillow, it was the size of the plated about 5 inches / 12 cm high. Most of it was just air but inside was the best fish dish. After that I would often order this just to see the different shapes and fillings the different chefs can up with.  The ones we made in the cooking class looked more like spring rolls. 

How to make Brik: We used cooked chicken cut into small pieces, diced potatoes, 1/3 cup olive oil, chopped onions and parsley, pepper, 1tbsp salt, 1/3 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp ginger. Cook all of this and mash. Roll out the dough, decide the shapes you want and make folders. Add cream cheese to the mashed mixture and some raw eggs. Mix and place spoonfuls on the Brik dough. Fold over. Keep damp by covering them with a wet tea towel. When the oils is hot deep fry till golden brown. The healthier option is to bake in a hot oven. 

Stuffed calamari 

Mix cooked rice, parsley, chopped calamari wings, lots of dried mint, coriander, 2 tbsp Harissa, 2,5tsp sea salt, pepper, 1,5 tsp turmeric and 1/2 cup olive oil. Mix well and stuff into calamari tubes ‘sealing’ with a toothpick. 

Sauce: Heat olive oil, add chopped onions, 2tbsp tomato paste, a little water, salt, pepper and garlic. Add the stuffed calamari to this as well as a tbsp saffron and more water. Cook for about 30 minutes. 

Vegetable dish 

Put chopped spinach, onions and parsley into olive oil and saute. Add chopped dill, tomato paste, 1 tbsp Harissa, salt and pepper, coriander, garlic, peas, 4 carrots, chopped turnip, and boil over low heat. Towards end add zucchini and whole chillis. Chillis are not hot when left whole and removed whole before serving. 

Here are some of the meals I enjoyed in Tunisia. Some in upmarket restaurants and some in humble homes with a few candles providing the only light.

Day 8  So long, till we meet again, Tunisia.

Tunisian Proverb: They ate our food and forgot our names. 

I hope this proverb will not be true of my party.  We really had a great time and we realised a week is not enough. We did not see the national parks, we did not do any bird watching, we did not do an art class. There is a huge piece of the country we did not see on this trip. Then there are the beaches in the summer… So many reasons to return.

Day 7  Sand, hot water springs and back to Tunis

Tunisian Proverb: Hit him with a bean, he will break

I was up again in the dark and set off the see the sunrise in the Sahara desert. It was cold and very quiet. Then I saw our driver was up too and was busy making a fire outside of our camp area.  I went over to see what he was doing and found our breakfast in the making. He had made a fire and buried some dough in the sand, covered it with hot coals. After a while he poked around in the sand with a stick, found the bread ready and pulled it out from the sand. He used a piece of muslin and wiped all traces of ash and sand from the bread and broke a piece off for me. Oh how special was that.

Day 6  Into The Sahara Desert

Tunisian Proverb: They asked the female cat why her kittens were of different colours; she said she is embarrassed to say no.

I was up before sunrise to explore this town called Matmata. The troglodytes have been the homes for the locals for centuries and they were only “discovered” by outsiders / foreigners in the 60’s. And they would probably have stayed a little known fact if the Star Wars creators did not think that is the type of home that would suit Luke Skywalker. 

Day 5 From a colosseum to Luke Skywalker’s Home

Tunisian Proverb: The multitude is stronger than the king.

Today we have a long trek ahead of us. We left our guest house much later than we planned because after breakfast we once again just sat around that table and had a good ol’ natter. We really felt like we were hosted by friends.

Day 4 The Cooking Class

Tunisian Proverb: The bald woman boasts of her sister’s hair.

We get home with our fresh vegetables, fish and spices. Its the time of day when working people are starting to go home and we discover Madame Rabaa’s warm personality and hospitality is not kept just for paying guests. We are all gathered in the huge kitchen ready and eager to learn about Tunisian cooking and while Madame Rabaa is talking and giving us instructions friends of all ages just walk in to the house, fish around in the fridge to something, sit themselves down, join in what we are doing and after a while take their leave. There is a constant flow of friends in and out of the house. No disruption, its all just part of a normal evening at this family’s home.

We learnt to make Brik, stuffed calamari and a vegetable dish. Here are the recipes.

Brik

We used cooked ckicken cut into small pieces, diced potatoes, 1/3 cup olive oil, chopped onions and parsley, pepper, 1tbsp salt, 1/3 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp ginger. Cook all of this and mash. Prepare the dough, decide the shapes you want and make folders. Add cream cheese to the mashed mixture and some raw eggs. Mix and place spoons full on the Brik dough. Fold over. Keep damp by covering them with a wet tea towel. When the oil is hot deep fry till golden brown. The healthier option is to bake in a hot oven.

The Brik dough is phyllo.

Stuffed calamari

Mix cooked rice, parsley, chopped calamari wings, lots of dried mint, coriander,
2 tbsp Harissa, 2,5tsp sea salt, pepper, 1,5 tsp turmeric and 1/2 cup olive oil. Mix well and stuff into calamari tubes ‘sealing’ with a toothpick.

Sauce: Heat olive oil, add chopped onions, 2tbsp tomato paste, a little water, salt, pepper and garlic. Add the stuffed calamari to this as well as a tbsp saffron and more water. Cook for about 30 minutes.

Vegetable dish

Put chopped spinach, onions and parsley into olive oil and sauté. Add chopped dill, tomato paste, 1 tbsp Harissa, salt and pepper, coriander, garlic, peas, 4 carrots, chopped turnip, and boil over low heat. Towards end add zucchini and whole chillis. Chillis are not hot when left whole and removed whole before serving.

With all the cooking done, the dinner table is set by some of the friends still hanging around. They also made a mixed salad. Then we all move to the table to enjoy the food. Here every dish is served separately as if each dish is a course on its own.

Day 4  The Cooking Class

Tunisian Proverb: If my belly is of glass, I will fill it with bread and chicken; if it is a closed cellar, I will fill it with cockroaches.

We arrived in this narrow street in front of a very neat looking house with no signage indicating that this is the Guest House Dar Omi. The minute we step through the front door we are welcomed like old friends or family. Before you have put your bags down you already feel as if you are at home.