Friday, March 26, 2010

Walima March Challenge - Representing the Tunisian Cuisine

My appology for forgetting to post the challenge earlier, so that you can participate in cooking with us this challenge... Still have couple of days if you like to give one of these recipes a try.
Tunisia, officially the Tunisian Republic (الجمهورية التونسيةal-Jumhūriyya at-Tūnisiyya), is the northernmost country in Africa. It is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its size is almost 165,000 km² with an estimated population of just over 10.3 million. Its name is derived from the capital Tunis located in the north-east. Tunisia is the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. The south of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil and 1,300 km of coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then as the Africa Province which was known as the "bread basket" of the Roman Empire. Later, Tunisia was occupied by Vandals during the 5th century AD, Byzantines in the 6th century, and Arabs in the 8th century. Under the Ottoman Empire, Tunisia was known as "Regency of Tunis". It passed under French protectorate in 1881. After obtaining its independence in 1956, the country took the official name of the "Kingdom of Tunisia" at the end of the reign of Lamine Bey and the Husainid Dynasty. With the proclamation of the Tunisian republic in July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president and led the modernization of the country.
Today Tunisia is an export-oriented country, in the process of liberalizing its economy while, politically it is a dictatorship in all but name. Tunisia has an authoritarian regime in the guise of a procedural democracy led by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who has governed as President since 1987 and has systematically diminished freedom of press and political pluralism while keeping appearances of democracy (for references see, below, for the politics of Tunisia).
Tunisia has close relations with both the European Union — with whom it has an association agreement — and the Arab world. Tunisia is also a member of the Arab League and the African union. The regime's success in oppressing political Islam and its pro-western foreign policy has protected it from criticism for its lack of democratic accountability and its violations of human rights and freedom of press.
Every year numerous Tunisians attempt illegal immigration to European countries like Italy by sea. Many die trying when their small boats capsize or get adrift in the high seas. Others reach their destination only to be forcibly repatriated.



At the beginning of known recorded history, Tunisia was inhabited by Berber tribes. Its coast was settled by Phoenicians starting as early as the 10th century B.C. The city of Carthage was founded in the 9th century B.C. by settlers from Tyre, now in modern day Lebanon. Legend says that Dido founded the city in 814 B.C., as retold in by the Greek writer Timaeus of Tauromenium. The settlers of Carthage brought their culture and religion from the Phoenicians and other Canaanites.
Elissar Queen of Tyre and the Shining City
According to Roman sources, Phoenician colonists led by Queen Dido (Elissa) founded Carthage in 814 BCE. Queen Elissa (also known as "Alissar", in Arabic name was an exiled princess of the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre. At its peak, the metropolis she founded, Carthage came to be called the "shining city," ruling 300 other cities around the western Mediterranean and leading the Phoenician (or Punic) world.
Elissa's brother, King Pygmalion of Tyre, had murdered her husband, the high priest. Elissa escaped the tyranny of her own country and founded the "new city" of Carthage and subsequently its later dominions. Details of her life are sketchy and confusing, but the following can be deduced from various sources. According to Justin, Princess Elissa was the daughter of King Matten of Tyre (also known as Muttoial or Belus II). When he died, the throne was jointly bequeathed to her and her brother, Pygmalion. She married her uncle Acherbas (also known as Sychaeus) the High Priest of Melqart, a man with both authority and wealth comparable to the king. This furthered rivalry between religion and the monarchy. Pygmalion was a tyrant, lover of both gold and intrigue, who desired the authority and fortune enjoyed by Acherbas. Pygmalion assassinated Acherbas in the temple and kept the misdeed concealed from his sister for a long time, deceiving her with lies about her husband's death. At the same time, the people of Tyre called for a single sovereign, causing dissent within the royal family.
When she ran away with her followers , they sail into the sea, and stopped the shores of a nice area and she said this is a shining city and here will build our new home. She met the king of that area and asked him if she can buy the land to build a home. The king asked her how big she wants her land and she said I will come back tomorrow to give you the exact measurement. She went home and asked her people to take a cow skin and cut it into very fine string and attach them together one by one a long rope. The second day she took the cow skin and went to the king and spread the rope on the ground as much as it opens and she said this is the size of my land. And she bought the Shining City – Carthage and build her new home. A new gate to the Phoenician kingdom was open.

The Roman Period

Though the Romans referred to the new empire growing in the city of Carthage as Punic or Phoenician, the empire built around Carthage was an independent political entity from the other Phoenician settlements in the Western Mediterranean.
A Carthaginian invasion of Italy led by Hannibal during the Second Punic War, one of a series of wars with Rome, nearly crippled the rise of the Roman Empire. Carthage was eventually conquered by Rome in the 2nd century BC, a turning point which led to ancient Mediterranean civilization having been influenced mainly by European instead of African cultures.
After the Roman conquest, the region became one of the granaries of Rome, and was Latinized and Christianized. The Romans controlled nearly all of modern Tunisia, unlike other modern African countries, of which Rome only held the northern coast. It was conquered by the Vandals in the 5th century AD and reconquered by the commander Belisarius in the 6th century during the rule of Byzantine emperor Justinian.


The Arab-Muslim Period

Around the end of the 7th century and the beginning of 8th century the region was conquered by Arab Muslims, who founded the city of Kairouan which became the first city of Islam in North Africa ; in this period was erected (in 670) the Great Mosque of Kairouan considered as the oldest and most prestigious sanctuary in the western Islamic world as well as a great masterpiece of Islamic art and architecture. Tunisia flourished under Arab rule. Extensive irrigation installations were constructed to supply towns with water and promote agriculture (especially olive production). This prosperity permitted luxurious court life and was marked by the construction of new Palace cities such as al-Abassiya (809) and Raqadda (877).

The Ottoman Rule


In the last years of the Hafsids, Spain seized many of the coastal cities, but these were recovered by the Ottoman Empire. Under its Turkish governors, the Beys, Tunisia attained virtual independence. The Hussein dynasty of Beys, established in 1705, lasted until 1957. From 1881 - 1956 the country was under French colonization. European settlements in the country were actively encouraged; the number of French colonists grew from 34,000 in 1906 to 144,000 in 1945. In 1910 there were 105,000 Italians in Tunisia.
Tunisian cuisine, the cuisine of Tunisia, is a blend of Mediterranean and desert dweller's culinary traditions. Its distinctive spicy fieriness comes from neighboring Mediterranean countries and the many civilizations who have ruled Tunisian land: Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Turkish, French, and the native Berber people. Many of the cooking styles and utensils began to take shape when the ancient tribes were nomads. Nomadic people were limited in their cooking by what locally made pots and pans they could carry with them. A tagine is really the name of a conical-lidded pot, although today the same word is applied to what is cooked in it.
Like all countries in the Mediterranean basin, Tunisia offers a "sun cuisine," based mainly on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, seafood (a wide range of fish) and meat from rearing (lamb).
Unlike other North African cuisine, Tunisian food is quite spicy. A popular condiment and ingredient which is used extensively Tunisian cooking, Harissa is a hot red pepper sauce made of red chili peppers and garlic, flavored with coriander, cumin, olive oil and often tomatoes. There is an old wives' tale that says a husband can judge his wife's affections by the amount of hot peppers she uses when preparing his food. If the food becomes bland then a man may believe that his wife no longer loves him. However when the food is prepared for guests the hot peppers are often toned down to suit the possibly more delicate palate of the visitor. Like Harissa or chili peppers, the tomato is also an ingredient which cannot be separated from the cuisine of Tunisia. Tuna, eggs, olives and various varieties of pasta, cereals, herbs and spices are also ingredients which are featured prominently in Tunisian cooking.

This dish, with many variations, is a popular breakfast in North Africa, especially in Algeria and Tunisia. Most recipes include the eggs, but they can actually be left out if you like. Jewish immigrants from the Maghreb have made this a popular breakfast dish in Israel.
4 to 6 servings
Olive oil -- 3 tablespoons
Paprika -- 1 to 2 tablespoons
Onion, thinly sliced -- 1
Garlic, minced -- 2 to 3 cloves
Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced -- 3
Green and red bell peppers, diced -- 2 to 3
Water -- 1 cup
Salt and pepper -- to taste
Eggs (optional) -- 4


Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Stir in the paprika and cook slighly to color the oil, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to reduce down a little bit. Add the peppers, water and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add more water as needed to keep it from drying out.
Using a spoon, form four small indentations in the simmering peppers to hold the eggs. One by one, crack the eggs into a small bowl and slip each from the bowl into an indentation. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Serve with crusty bread, pita or rice.
Add 1 teaspoon of cumin seed to the hot oil for about 15 seconds before you add the paprika. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground coriander along with the onions.
For a little spice, sauté 1 tablespoon of Harissa paste or a minced Chile pepper with the onions.
Sometimes fresh shrimp or a spicy lamb sausage called merguez is added to the simmering peppers along with the eggs.
Add 1 small, diced eggplant along with the peppers.
Add 1 potato, cut in a small dice, along with the peppers.
Sprinkle the top of the cooked dish with chopped parsley or cilantro.
Add a few olives and capers and eliminate the eggs. Chill and serve garnished with hard-boiled eggs or tuna.

Indentation. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Serve with crusty bread, pita or rice.
Add 1 teaspoon of cumin seed to the hot oil for about 15 seconds before you add the paprika. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground coriander along with the onions.
For a little spice, sauté 1 tablespoon of Harissa paste or a minced Chile pepper with the onions.
Sometimes fresh shrimp or a spicy lamb sausage called merguez is added to the simmering peppers along with the eggs.
Add 1 small, diced eggplant along with the peppers.
Add 1 potato, cut in a small dice, along with the peppers.
Sprinkle the top of the cooked dish with chopped parsley or cilantro.
Add a few olives and capers and eliminate the eggs. Chill and serve garnished with hard-boiled eggs or tuna.

Makroud, Tunisian Date Pastry Recipe

Difficulty: Average

Chef's Note
Makhroud are small semolina cakes cut in the shape of lozenges, stuffed with dates, hazelnuts, or almonds, deep fried in oil and drizzled with honey or sugar syrup.

These delicacies are special because they combine the cereals of the north of the country with the olive oil of the Sahel region. In the past, Makhroud were made at home; today

bakers and pastry chefs do the work. The most famous are called “Segni-ben Sokrana-Bouhafer-Omrani”.

Semolina pastry
- 200 g (7 oz.) fine semolina
- 2 g (1/2 tsp.) ground saffron
- 100 ml (6 Tbsp.) vegetable oil
- 20 g (4 tsp.) butter
- a pinch of salt
- 150 g (5 oz.) dates (or other variety)
- 1 orange
- 2 g (1/2 tsp.) ground cinnamon
- 150 g (5 oz.) powdered sugar
- 75 g (3 oz.) honey
- 1/2 lemon
- 50 ml (3 Tbsp.) geranium flower water, or orange flower water
- 250 ml (1 cup) water
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Or ground almonds

- oil for frying


1st step: Heat and clarify the butter.  Combine it in a bowl with the vegetable oil.
Prepare the pastry by putting the semolina, saffron and salt in a bowl.
Add the clarified butter/oil mixture.

2nd step: Combine everything with a spatula.
Gradually add in 100 ml (6 Tbsp.) warm water to form elastic dough.

3rd step: Knead the dough on a work surface. Form into a ball and spread out using the heel of your hand. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.
4th step: Prepare the filling by pureeing the pitted dates in a blender. Peel the orange and cut the zest into small dice.
Combine the dates, orange zest and cinnamon into a paste. Shape into 3 cylinders.

5th step: Knead the dough again with the heel of your hand. Divide into 3 equal pieces.
Form into cylinders 2 cm in diameter. Using your fingers, form a cavity along the length of the cylinders. Fill with a cylinder of date filling. Seal the edges of the dough to enclose the filling.  Smooth and shape the cylinder lengthwise.

6th step: Using the wooden press, flatten the pastry (or use a rolling pin). Cut the cylinders into rectangles and cut into equal-sized lozenges. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon.
Combine the ingredients for the syrup. Fry the lozenges in hot oil until golden.
Drain on paper towels before immersing in the syrup.

Note: Our friend Sabbah from Sousoukitchen has a video to show you how to prepare the makrout this is her link.

Home made Clarified Butter - Gheen - Semen

Clarifying butter is as simple as melting butter and letting the milk solids settle or rise out of the fat. Care should be taken not to burn the butter while heating it, so use a heavy pan that doesn't have any hotspots. When using salted butter, it is difficult to guess how much salt will remain in the clarified butter. A lot of the salt can be found in the milk solids as it settles or foams up, but the exact amount will be different every time. Use unsalted butter to remove any uncertainty. You can add salt to the clarified butter later to achieve the desired saltiness).

To make approximately 1/2 cup of clarified butter, melt one cup (225 g) of butter in a small saucepan over low heat. With a good saucepan, you can just leave it there over low heat while doing something else and the butter will slowly melt. Turning up the heat will melt the butter faster, but the milk solids may begin to burn, so, resist the temptation. Instead, you can cut up the butter into pieces to speed up melting. Also, if you don't have a small saucepan, it may be best to use more butter. Too little butter in a large diameter pan will make it difficult to separate the solids from the fat later.

When the butter has completely melted, continue to heat it over low heat. Some milk solids will drop to the bottom of the pan while others will rise as foam. As the milk solids rise to the top, they can be skimmed off. (Or, it can be removed when the butter cools.)

At this point you can remove the butter from the heat and skim off all the foam. Let the butter cool a bit to let more of the solids settle and then pour or spoon out the clarified fat, leaving the remaining milk solids in the pan.

Alternatively, pour the hot melted butter through cheesecloth to filter out the foam and solids that have settled, catching the clarified butter in a jar.
Or, pour the hot butter into a container, allow it to separate while cooling and then refrigerate. After it has solidified, you can easily scrape off the hardened foam from the stiff clarified butter layer.

Although pure clarified butter does not need to be refrigeration, I recommend you store your clarified butter in the refrigerator (at least for the first time when you make the Semen, as some milk solids may still be present and may cause the butter to go rancid). Use the clarified butter as you would use regular butter (tablespoon for tablespoon) in recipes.

Semen or clarified butter has no more lactose, so lactose-sensitive individuals should be able to enjoy clarified butter without the uncomfortable effects those of us who are lactose intolerant are well aware of.

أفضل الطرق لعمل المسلي (السمن البلدي

يُستخلص السمن من الزبد عن طريق التبخير، وكما نعلم فإن الزبد يُصنع من الحليب كامل الدسم، وبالتالي يتأثر المذاق والنوعية بنوع الحليب المُستخدم. يُسيح الزبد في إناء سميك على نار هادئة، ثم تُرفع الحرارة إلى متوسطة حتى تبدأ في الغليان ثم تخفض مرة أخرى. مع تقليب الزبد السائح تقليباً مستمرا ً حتى يتبخر منه جزء كبير من الماء ثم يُترك على النار بدون تقليب ليتراكم الحليب الصلب بقاع الإناء، وبسبب ملامسته للقاع فسيتحول لونه إلى البني ويترك الزبد الذي تحول إلى مسلي حتى يصبح لونه اصفر كهرماني شفافاً، يُرفع من على النار ويُترك جانباً حتى يبرد قليلاً ثم يُصفى ( وعند تصفيته يُراعى عدم خلط المترسب في القاع مع المسلي )، يُعبأ في برطمانات نظيفة مجففة ويغلق جيداً.

عند استخدام السمن على نار مرتفعة نلاحظ تحملها للحرارة على عكس الزبد، والسبب في ذلك هو كمية الحليب السائل الذي تبخر أثناء عملية التحول من زبد إلى سمن، فإذا كان الغرض استخدام النكهة فقليل من السمن يكفي لإعطاء النكهة المطلوبة، وإن لم يكن لدينا السمن فيمكن استخدام قليل من الزيت ( زيت خضار بدون نكهة قوية) مع الزبد وذلك يساعد على تحمل الزبد للحرارة. وكما يتم في حالة الزيت من إضافة نكهات مختلفة من أعشاب عطرية وبهارات وتوابل عن طريق تسخين الزيت ووضع الأعشاب أو البهار به فيمكن اتباع نفس الخطوات مع السمن.

Leftover of milk solid
can be left in the fridge for an hour, the fat will harden and the milk will remain in the bottom so you can easily separate them