Last week we had a Tunisian cooking class at my mom’s store. My good friends Sarah and Katie taught the class. Sarah has been doing a lot of research on Tunisian food, and to my delight a lot of practice too! We made several different dishes: lablabi, mlauoi, m’hamsa salad, torchi, carrot feta salad, and gateau a l’orange.
Lablabi is a Tunisian chickpea stew, it is the one food that is consistently available on the streets of Tunisia both night and day. The lablabi stands don’t have any signage, but rather, they have tall stacks of bowls made specifically for eating lablabi in. So that the chickpeas get very sweet and tender, the stall-keepers start cooking them in the wee hours of the morning and keep them on the flame all day long. We weren’t quite as diligent on this step, but we started cooking the chickpeas first thing in the morning (at about 8am instead of 3am.)
There are a few musts for preparing lablabi, it must be served with bread, toasted cumin, harissa and a drizzle of olive oil. Beyond that, you are free to add whatever condiments you like. Sarah recommends adding capers, preserved lemon and brine, and sun-dried tomatoes.
First in the bowl is the bread (ripped into pieces) then a scoop of chickpeas with plenty of broth, (making sure to have enough broth after the bread has soaked some up) followed by the condiments.
After you have added everything be sure to mix it up very well so you get all the flavors in each bite!
The next thing we learned how to make was mlaoui, a traditional semolina flatbread. These breads are very simple to make, you mix together semolina flour and a little all-purpose flour, some salt and olive oil. Then add enough water so that the dough ends up looking something like this.
You will need a lot of water! Semolina soaks up a lot more than you would think. After achieving the right consistency, it needs to rest for at least 20 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead it, sprinkling a little bit of water as you go. The dough should be soft and malleable. Divide it into 4 pieces and let it rest a bit longer.
Then you spread the dough out in a large somewhat translucent rectangle and rub it with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of semolina and fold it in on itself like a letter going into an envelope.
Press the dough out again and roll it up. (If you want to make little breads, you can slice the roll into pieces.)
Press the roll (on end) into a thin circle and place it on a hot griddle. Cook it until the bread is lightly golden and flip. Flip it once more and hope it puffs up!
During the initial rest period, we prepared several salads (all of which pair very well with the mlaoui!)
This next dish is something I make at home quite often, it is a m’hamsa (couscous) salad. We sautéed some summer squash, sweet and hot peppers in olive oil. Towards the end of cooking, we tossed in some already cooked beans, and caraway seeds. When the m’hamsa was ready, we added the veggies to it and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped mint, and parsley.
Torchi is a quick pickle. You can use just about any vegetable that is in season,(some common ones are radishes, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, and fennel.) We used red cabbage, the color was stunning! To make torchi, you chop fresh vegetables and dress them with some toasted and lightly ground coriander, salt, champagne vinegar, and of course, a bit of harissa. You can eat it right a way or you can let it sit over night in the fridge.
I have always loved carrot salad and this Carrot and Feta salad is no exception! I mean how can you go wrong with carrots, harissa, feta, raisins, a sprinkling of mint and parsley, and a squeeze of lemon? Let me answer that for you, you can’t!
For dessert we made Gateau a l’Orange (an Orange cake made with olive oil!) It involves using the entire orange, minus the seeds. After removing the seeds, you put the oranges in a food processor and grind them to a pulp. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs and sugar, add the flour baking powder and olive oil. Mix. Add the orange pulp and mix again. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds and bake.
We also made a rose geranium syrup to brush on to the cake while it was cooling.
To finish off the meal we had some mint tea, traditionally served with toasted pine nuts.
Note: For a complete version of the recipes click here.