How are you? I hope you liked Johanna’s road trip in search of aliens in the south-western United States and that you are already planning your vacation in the US. Even at the risk of causing an internal international conflict, this week I have decided not to respect the protocol: I will not present a recipe linked to the alien road trip. But do not worry, the alien recipe is coming soon!
As I said, I have decided to skip the internal procedures and go to lands a little more to the east. Today we will cook a recipe from a country where I had the opportunity to live for two years, which I always keep in my heart and where I made some very good friends. We are travelling to Tunisia!
I lived in Tunisia with one foot in Kairouan and the other in Fériana. This did not only allow me to visit a large part of the country, from the desert via the Mediterranean coast to the country’s north. At the same time, I was able to learn a lot about and from Tunisia’s culture, its people and, of course, its delightful cuisine and treats.
Tunisia is a country has been influenced by many different cultures since Berbers came there: Phoenicians with their wonderful Carthage, Romans (Tunisia was one of the main granaries of the Roman Empire), Muslim Arabs, the Spanish, the Ottoman Empire… and finally, it was a French colony until it became independent in 1956. At the culinary level, you can also detect the Italian influence due to proximity. Do not tell anyone, but the best pizzas I have eaten until now were in Tunisia.
What can I write about Tunisian cuisine? First of all, there is more than couscous. Indeed, couscous is ubiquitous and part of the daily diet, but Tunisia has a broad gastronomic repertoire. All along the coast you will find good fish and seafood, fresh from the small traditional fishing boats. It is very common to eat fish and seafood simply grilled or with sauce sfaxienne. The main meat you will find is lamb, also chicken is quite common. Wherever you go you will find small restaurant, so-called Mechuis, where a lamb awaits its turn to be cooked on the grill. As for vegetables and fruits, especially the climate in Tunisia’s north is very favorable and they have a very good range of different sorts.
I could write an endless list of dishes I particularly liked: brick, Tunisian salad, Mechouia salad, Chorba soup, fish couscous from Gabes or chicken couscous, tunisian tajine (a kind of egg pie) and of course Tunisian sweets, deriving from both Arab and French influence.
So, today I am going to present one of my favorite starters: Ojja with eggs and merguez. For those who live in a Mediterranean country, you may know some similar dish from your region.
Let’s get started with Tunisian cuisine!
Ingredients for about 4 people as a starter:
(also possible as a main dish, than you will need to double the ingredients)
- tomatoes: 300 g
- green pepper: 150 g
- garlic: 2 cloves
- tomato paste: 25 g
- ground cumin: 1 tsp
- harissa: optional, to taste. I used a couple of teaspoons since we prefer the Ojja a bit spicy.
What is harissa? Harissa is a spicy red pepper paste. Each Tunisian family has its own recipe and depending on the region, it can be more or less spicy. There will be a dish of harissa on every self-respecting table, often accompanied by a little tuna. Add a splash of Tunisian olive oil and dip it with some bread!
- olive oil: about 50 ml
- Hot water: ¾ cup
- eggs: 4
- merguez: 8
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Time for preparation: 10 minutes
Time for cooking: 30 minutes
Here we go!
Start by cutting the tomatoes in small dices and the pepper in a bit larger dices.
Heat a saucepan at medium heat and add the oil. When it is hot, add the tomato paste and stir until it is diluted with the oil. Add the crushed garlic cloves as well as the diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and add cumin powder and harissa to taste. Sauté this for about 5 minutes. Then add the hot water and cook everything for about 20 minutes. If necessary, add some more water during cooking, as the Ojja should not be dry.
After these 20 minutes, add the pepper and let it cook another 10 minutes.
We are almost finished! Heat a with a bit of oil and fry the merguez. Personally, I prefer not to cut the merguez, as they stay juicier at the inside like this. Once ready, put them on a plate for later.
Back to our Ojja. After having let the peppers cook for 10 minutes, it is time to season the Ojja to taste with salt, pepper and harissa.
Crack the eggs one by one in a small bowl and let them glide into the saucepan with the Ojja. My tip: In order to prevent the eggs from slipping from one side of the pan to the other, make four holes in the Ojjas, in which you let glide the eggs. Our Ojja is be ready when the white of the eggs is cooked but the yolk remains yet uncooked.
Serve the Ojja accompanied by the merguez and enjoy!
Do you know other Tunisian dishes? Does the Ojja remind you of a dish from your region? If so, share your recipes with us!