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Friday, April 2, 2010

Tunisian Cuisine

The cuisine of Tunisia consists of a blend of Mediterranean, North African and traditional Arab cooking.The people of Tunisia enjoy all kinds of food including lamb, couscous dishes, fish and traditional pastry dishes. Under the influence of Mediterranean cultures many dishes include tomatoes, olive oil and fresh bread. The foundation of the cuisine is couscous, which goes back two or three thousand years to the Tunisian ancestors, the Berbers, couscous is made from coarsely ground semolina pasta and is combined with a variety of meat and vegetables. Couscous is sometimes combined with various sauces like Harissa, a traditional spicy red pepper sauce made with tomatoes, olive oil, peppers and spices. Spices and peppers play a central role in the cuisine. Most dishes are heavily spiced with seasonings such as bay leaves, cumin, caraway, saffron, cinnamon and mint. Tunisia produces many fine wines, beers, brandies and liquors.

Tunisian appetizers come in all kinds of tastes and flavors. Typically they include olives and olive oil, fresh vegetables, bread and sauces. No Tunisian food is complete without spicy hot Harissa.

Cauliflower Tagine - In a skillet olive oil is heated and onions added. Afterwards garlic, bell pepper, paprika, Tabil (a Tunisian spice mixture consisting of ground coriander seed, caraway seed, garlic powder, and chili powder. The term can also refer to coriander by itself.), tomato paste and some salt and pepper. Once the pepper softens sun-dried tomatoes and water is added again seasoned with salt and pepper and transferred to a baking dish. Cauliflower is boiled until just tender and spread in the baking dish. In a bowl bread crumbs and Gruyere cheese are combined then beaten eggs are added. This mixture is poured over the cauliflower and covered with foil and baked for 15 minutes then uncovered and baked for 15 minutes more until crisp on top.

Chackchouka - Green peppers with seeds removed are cut into strips, onions sliced and tomatoes cut in half. Sautee onions and green peppers. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper then add tomatoes and cook until green peppers are tender. Break eggs in a bowl and beat then pour into the pan when scrambled the dish is ready.

Harisa - Mildly hot dried guajillo chili peppers and mild dried Anaheim chili peppers are soaked in tepid water up to an hour. Drained and deseeded. Place in a blender or food processor with garlic, water and olive oil. Process until smooth. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in caraway, coriander and salt. Store in a jar topped off with olive oil covering the surface. Whenever the paste is used it must again be topped off with olive oil.

Salsa Ninety Nine - Tomatoes are cored and peeled and the seeds and pulp removed. The seeds and pulp are put through a food mill and the tomatoes chopped. In a large pot the milled liquid is boiled with tomato paste added until the liquid is reduced. Then green peppers, onions, chopped tomatoes, salt, vinegar and brown sugar is added. In a small bowl cornstarch is dissolved in water and the mixture is added to the pot and boiled until the vegetables are tender. The mixture is allowed to cool and place in sterile containers.

Tunisian Fish Cakes with Spicy Lemon and Paprika Aioli - Mild white fish fillets (such as orange roughly or halibut) are cubed. A baking sheet is lined with plastic wrap. The fish is coarsely ground in a processor. Then onions, garlic, parsley, cilantro, kosher salt, ground ginger, black pepper, and matzo meal are added. An egg is added and everything is processed smooth. The mixture is shaped into small cakes and arranged on the sheet. Oil is heated in a skillet and the fish cakes are fried until brown and cooked through. Serve with Spicy Lemon and Paprika Aioli – Mayonnaise, fresh lemon juice, garlic cloves, tomato paste, hot smoked Spanish paprika or Hungarian sweet paprika and cayenne pepper are whisked in a bowl and salt and pepper is added.

Soups in Tunisia usually contain tomatoes or beans and sometimes some sort of meat. They may be served as appetizers or as the main meal and are generally heavily seasoned and spiced.

African Bean Soup - Margarine is added to a large stock pot then carrots and cooked for 5 minutes. Water, black eyed peas, navy beans, green pepper, salt and crushed red pepper are added. Cooked until tender then salted peanuts, onion powder, bail and coriander are added. The soup should be thick.
Bissara - A classic Tunisian soup spiced with harissa. Lentil or baby fava beans are cooked and then pureed. In warm oil cook garlic, add tomato paste, cumin and harissa. Afterwards the bean puree, water or broth to a soup consistency and season with salt and pepper. Heat to just below boiling and serve extra harissa on the side.
Chickpea and Lentil Soup - In a pot butter is melted and onion and celery added. Cook until vegetables are softened. Stir in ginger, tumeric, cinnamon, salt, pepper and lentils Add water and crushed tomatoes in thick puree and bring to a boil. This is cooked until the lentils are tender. Then chickpeas are added and cilantro or parsley is stirred in.
Tunisian Octopus Soup - Onions are sautéed in olive oil, garlic, carrots and celery are added and sautéed. Then tomato paste and more olive oil and seasoned with salt. Cleaned octopus cut into pieces is added and water just to cover. Bring to a boil and add dried red chilies, caraway, cumin, cayenne, coriander and taste for salt. Cook until the octopus is tender then add bulghur and cilantro during last 20 minutes of cooking.

Tunisian meat dishes are usually made with either beef, lamb, or poultry. Couscous is usually served on the side.

Meat dishes:
Brik Dannouni (Stuffed Lamb Turnovers) - First a pastry is prepared and set aside. Then gruyere cheese is shredded in a food processor and then the lamb is chopped. The lamb is then cooked with paprika, salt and pepper. Transferred to a bowl and cooled. Then egg yolk and shredded cheese is stirred in. The dough is rolled out and dough circles cut out. The lamb filling is placed on each circle, folded over and sealed in. The turnovers are then fried golden brown in a skillet.

Couscous with Curried Chicken and Chickpeas - Boneless chicken thighs are seasoned with salt and pepper and browned. The onion, curry, cinnamon, cayenne are added and sautéed. Afterwards some stock and then diced red pepper and zucchini and simmered until tender. Add chickpeas and season with salt. In a separate saucepan boil the couscous. When ready add chopped cilantro and toss. Serve the curried chicken with the couscous.

Tunisian Couscous - In a stewpot chopped lamb is browned with onions. Then tomato paste is added and chopped tomatoes, cumin, black pepper, curry, cayenne, and green peppers. This is all simmered for 15 minutes. Then butternut squash, turnips, carrot, onion and potatoes are added and just covered with water. Cook until meat and vegetables are tender. Sere with couscous and garnish with green onion, parsley and lemons.

Tunisian Meat Pie - Onion and ground beef are browned and removed from heat. Mix in mashed potatoes, chopped eggs, parsley, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Stir in beaten eggs, blend well. The mixture is then placed into greased round pan or casserole and baked for 45 minutes. Served in wedges.

Tunisian Meatballs - Ground beef is mixed with bread crumbs, parsley, nutmeg, onion powder, salt, pepper, egg and water. Meatballs are formed and browned is broiler until golden brown. Tomatoes and onion are steamed. A sauce is made of chopped onion, chopped tomatoes, parsley, saffron, cinnamon, pepper and tomato juice. Then the meatballs, steamed tomatoes and onions are put in a pot in the sauce and simmered for 30 minutes.

Except for palm wine (lagmi) Tunisian wines come from the northern region’s vineyards of Haut Mornag (red, white, rose), Koudiat (red, white, rose), Saint-Cyprien (red), Thibar (red, white), Tardu (red) and the Carthage, Hassed Bay and Kelibia muscats. There is quality mineral water produced from many springs such as Safia, Ain Garci, Selma, Jetkiss and Zulel. In the summer a lot of fresh fruit drinks are drunk especially orange and lemon juice. There is also the traditional mint tea which is sometimes served with pine kernels.

Couscous with Curried Chicken and Chickpeas
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless Chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
One 15-ounce can Chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup couscous
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus whole sprigs, for garnish

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Season the Chicken with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the Onion, curry, cinnamon, Cayenne and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock and simmer until reduced by one-third, about 10 minutes. Add the diced red pepper and zucchini and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the Chickpeas and cook for 1 minute longer. Season the curried Chicken with salt.
2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the couscous and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork, then add the chopped cilantro and toss. Transfer the curry to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro sprigs and serve with the couscous.

Tunisian meat pie
1 large Onion, chopped
1 lb. lean ground Beef chuck
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup cooked mashed potatoes
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
2 Tbs parsley, chopped
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp garlic powder
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a skillet, brown Onion and meat in oil; remove from heat. Mix in potatoes, chopped eggs, parsley, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Stir in beaten eggs; blend well. Place mixture into a lightly greased 9-inch round pan or an ovenproof casserole. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve in wedges. By Rasma Raisters

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