Friday, April 30, 2010
This Weeks Three Course Menu...Tunisia!
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 (primarily lamb).
Unlike other North African cuisine, Tunisian food is quite spicy. A popular condiment and ingredient which is used extensively in 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 feature prominently in Tunisian cooking.
Tunisians also produce unique and delicate varieties of grapes, wheat, barley and orchard fruits, which are the source of outstanding wines (Chateau Mornag), beers (Stella brand - now owned by Heineken of Holland), brandy (Bhouka - fig liqueur, Tbibanine - date liqueur), and apple ciders. Scented waters with dark rose or blossom petals, similar to agua fresca with flowers, have been called "scents from heaven".
Tabil, pronounced "table" is a word in Tunisian Arabic meaning "seasoning " (similar to 'adobo' in Spanish) and refers to a particular Tunisian spice mix, although earlier it only meant ground coriander. Paula Wolfert makes the plausible claim that tabil is one of the spice mixes brought to Tunisia by Muslims coming from Andalusia in 1492 after the fall of Granada. Today, tabil, closely associated with the cooking of Tunisia, features garlic, cayenne pepper, caraway seeds and coriander pounded in a mortar, then dried in the sun. It is often used in cooking beef, veal and game.
Thanks to its long coastline and numerous fishing ports, Tunisia offers an abundant and varied selection of fish. Most diners in Tunisia are also content to have their fish fillet simply fire-grilled and seasoned with olive oil, a lemon squeeze and salt and pepper to taste. Fish can also be baked, fried in olive oil, stuffed, seasoned with cumin (kamoun). Squid, cuttle fish, and octopus are often served in hot crispy batter with slices of lemon, in a cooked salad, or stuffed and served with couscous.
Tunisians also love fire-grilled stuffed vegetables: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, squash and turnips.