Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tunisian Salad

Tunisian Salad

My mother said Sabiha, our "bonne", watered down the dish-detergent, my mother-in-law said she stole her mumu, my husband said please don’t let her cook, but I did anyway, one night each week. The dishes were always interesting – cous-cous sewn up in sheep stomach for example, and often delicious – Tajin Malsouka (see last week’s blog) a more appetizing example.  

Among the less exotic, entrail-entailed, was Tunisian Salad, which my mother in-law as well as husband grudgingly noted as one of Sabiha’s talents, and forgave her her thievery.  Most often, a dish prepared from emerald green peppers, meaty tomatoes, onion and garlic (never dried but purchased fresh on the stock with soft purplish skins), the addition of olives, tuna and boiled eggs, elevate this salad to a meal. French baquette is the untensil used to sop up the salad and to this day I must eat salad dressed with vinaigrette with crusty French bread. When the basic ingredients didn’t volunteer themselves in the kitchen, Sabiha scoured the  flower garden for leaves that spoke to her of digestion.  Though hesitant and wondering if she had any axes to grind with me, I found that the UFV was delicious.  

I have searched the gardens of my various homes in the years since, for the same leaf but it must be a uniquely Tunisian citizen.  I quickly learned the words for survival at the produce stand from my husband the linguist, chief among them “piquant”  for hot and "doux' for mild.  The boxes of emerald jewel peppers all looked the same to me, varying only in shape and the vegetable merchants, hoping the Americans would shop another day, kept their axes unground if they had any, by directing me to the milder varieties.  Sabiha taught me to roast veggies on the flame of the gas burner and peel the scorched skins to create Salata Mechouia,  first cousin to Salata Tunsia.. The smokiness of the roasted vegetables velvetized with olive oil and lemon juice become my favorite but I was always happy to be in control of how much "piquant" pepper was used!

Salata Tunsia  (Tunisian Salad)  
4 large roma or plum tomatoes, chopped
2 large sweet green peppers, chopped
1 small hot green pepper, finely chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, hard-boiled and quartered lengthwise
1 tab. tabil (see recipe
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tab. fresh lemon juice
1 can light chunk tuna or albacore, drained
10 - 15 mediteranean type olives
Romaine lettuce leaves

-In medium bowl, combine tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes.  Drain excess liquid from vegetables.  In a small bowl, mix tabil, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Pour over vegetables and toss.  Chill for 30 minutes.  On a serving platter, arrange romaine lettuce leaves.  Mound vegetable mixture on the leaves, then top with tuna chunks.  Arrange eggs and olives around edges.  Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with paprika or sumac.  Serve with a fresh, crusty baguette.  Serves 4 - 6.  

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