Have you ever tasted Méchouia or Salad Blankit? No? Never heard of it? Me neither, until I moved to Tunisia. They are both traditional Tunisian salads that are sure to spice up your next dinner party or BBQ.
Back in May, before the start of Ramadan, I took a three-day Tunisian cooking class at a local cooking school. The goal of the class was to go over the basics of Tunisian cuisine in time for the many iftar gatherings during the month of Ramadan.
I registered for the course with much trepidation. First and foremost, there was the language problem. The official language in Tunisia is Arabic (of which I speak none, other than counting to ten) and French (of which I speak enough for mere survival). Taking a three-day course in one of these languages seemed impossible. That said, the cooking school, Mille et Une Savuers, is located in my neighborhood and my neighborhood is populated with embassies and expats. I contacted the owner of the cooking school to ask her whether gal like me could get by: I love being in the kitchen, I have decent comprehension in French, but my verbal French skills dwindle to zero when I’m under pressure. Not surprisingly, she encouraged me to register for the course.
After hemming and hawing for a few days, in a moment of weakness and bravery, I registered for the course. Three days, four hours each day, with a maximum of six students. This was going to be intense.
Day 1: Tunisian Salads
On the first day, I set out to find the cooking school. A friend of mine from book club had given me an idea of where the schools was, and thankfully the school’s Facebook page provided the life-saving pin on a map. Finding the place wasn’t too hard and upon arrival, we were given disposable aprons and a short tour of the kitchen.
The first day of the course was Tunisian salads. Salads in Tunisia are not the mélange (mix) of freshly chopped ingredients tossed with a dressing. No. Tunisian salads are typically cooked and pureed, or very finely chopped. To my American readers, many Tunisian salads are more like a finely minced pico de gallo or even a salsa/chunky dip consistency.
We made several traditional salads, the first being Méchouia (pronounced “mesh-we-ah”). This is essentially a grilled vegetable salad that is mashed or processed. We grilled the vegetables on a skillet with light oil. Tomatoes and green peppers serve as the base for Méchouia.
Méchouia is often served with tuna and hard boiled eggs (because nearly EVERYTHING in Tunisia is served with tuna and hard boiled eggs) and can be made in a mild or spicy hot version. It’s served in small dishes and can be eaten alone or scooped up with bread. Frankly, Méchouia is found everywhere and often served with a mix of several other side salads, as a side with couscous, or in class, we used some of the Méchouia in a Salade Blankit.
I think of Salade Blankit as a Tunisian bruschetta. It’s basically slices of a baguette, soaked in a mix of harissa, spices, and vinegar, then topped with Méchouia and other toppings to your liking – you guessed it, tuna, eggs, and olives.
A cooking class in French…er..or Arabic
The class was exhausting, eye-opening, and delicious. The students and the teacher spoke in a combination of French and Arabic (though it felt mostly like Arabic) and I was the only non-Tunisian and effective mute in the class. I kept up easily with the techniques and methods just by watching carefully (like placing roasted peppers in a zip top bag to make peeling easier—that was a new trick for me). Thankfully, my nose and Google translate helped me interpret the many spices and ingredients we used throughout the day.
Most of my classmates where kind and used their English to help explain ingredients or methods to me if I was looking confused. There was only one lady who treated my lack of verbal communication for, well, stupidity. e.g. I know what a salt shaker is, I just don’t know what the word is in French! But, I digress.
In addition to learning how to prepare three lovely traditional salads, I loved learning the French words for spices and getting tips on where to purchase specialty item. Perhaps the most valuable lesson for me was pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to take the course in the first place.
Plus, now I actually know what these things are when I see them on the menu. Much to my delight, we went to several iftar dinners and I found both Méchouia and Salade Blankit on our tables. Stay tuned for more Tunisian recipes from my cooking class!
(translated and adapted from Chef Ezzeddine Dhaoudi)
- 4-5 large green peppers
- 4 tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1-2 large zip top bags
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground caraway seed
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 hard boiled eggs
- 6-8 olives, pitted
- ½ can of tuna
- Wash the peppers and tomatoes.
- Place a medium skillet (a cast iron pan works great for this) over medium high heat. Place the peppers in the skillet, turning occasionally until the skin forms a light char all over the peppers, then place the peppers in a large zip top bag.
- On the same skillet, repeat the grilling process with the tomatoes and the garlic cloves. Making sure that a light char forms all over before removing from the grill and placing them in the bag with the peppers.
- Let the peppers, garlic, and tomatoes cool in the sealed bag. You may place the vegetables in the refrigerator to cool them more quickly.
- Once the vegetables are completely cool, peel and de-seed the peppers and tomatoes. (Tip: It’s easiest to cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.)
- Mash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife.
- Place the peeled peppers, tomatoes, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the coriander, caraway, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice.
- Pulse 5-8 times, until the vegetables are well-minced, but before a smooth puree.
- Serve in a dish and garnish with tuna, eggs, and olives.
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon harissa (in paste form)
- 1 teaspoon of white vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 1 pinch of ground caraway seeds
- 1 pinch of coriander
- 1 baguette
- Salade Méchouia (see above)
- Toppings of your choice: ¼ cup olives, ¼ capers, ½ can of tuna, 2 hard-boiled eggs, and/or ¼ cup pickled veggies
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, harissa, vinegar, water, caraway, and coriander. Set aside.
- Slice the baguette into small rounds, about ½ inch (1 cm) thick.
- Taking 1-2 pieces of bread at a time, soak the bread thoroughly in the sauce allowing the bread to become a little soggy and saturated with the sauce.
- Place the soaked bread pieces on a platter and top with a spoonful of Méchouia.
- Garnish with the toppings as desired.
- Serve immediately at room temperature or chilled after refrigerating.