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.
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
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.
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.
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.