As well as Mediterranean climate and a large populous of camels, Tunisia can boast of animated inhabitants and a plethora of cultural gems – including but not limited to the majestic, extensive surviving Roman ruins of Carthage and other historical marvels such as relics of the Ottoman regime. The country is perched precariously at the very north of Africa and is geographically (although perhaps not culturally) closer to Malta than to Egypt.
Although it is barely larger than England the sprawling desert landscape caught George Lucas’ attention, and is home to the set of Star Wars’ “Tatouine”. Ripe dates in overhanging trees accompany the truly dazzling blue and white mosaicked hillside villages – which thankfully were for the most part undisturbed by last summer’s political unrest in neighbouring Libya.
As sunset approached each day, the dedicated fasting store holders became increasingly irritable in the anticipation of their much-deserved first food and water of the day.
As an added bonus, no jabs are required to take the 3 hour flight over; and if you venture further than the chips at the poolside of your comfortable, liberal European-style hotel and you can take real advantage of the cultural and culinary delights of the bustling markets such as those in the popular destinations, Tunis or Hammamet. Savour the colourful assault on the senses, although take care to firmly deflect the more aggressive propositions and haggling of the store holders, and remember to be respectful of the Muslim culture and dress-code.
I took my trip during Ramadan – meaning that as sunset approached each day, the dedicated fasting store holders became increasingly irritable in the anticipation of their much-deserved first food and water of the day. But in no way did this diminish the quality of food on offer (as a tourist-orientated country, they were quite accommodating), and the seafood was particularly memorable.
The intense heat and the clear ocean are ideal for nurturing the delicious Moroccan-style vegetables, dates, lemons, chickpeas, grilled fish, olives, couscous and of course the harissa paste which is such an integral part of the local cuisine. Harissa paste can normally be found in countries with strong Arabic influence, but is slowing becoming more available at larger supermarkets in this country. It is mainly comprised of piri piri and Serrano peppers, olive oil and a variety of Tunisian herbs and spices so perfectly livens up the chicken in this simple yet delicious array of easily attainable Tunisian ingredients. The rest of the small pot of harissa would also work well in stews, salad dressings, or spicy vegetable bakes. Substitute the bulghar for couscous if preferred, the dish will still remain as authentic.
Harrissa Chicken with Bulghar
Serves 4, Takes 30 minutes
1 tbsp harissa paste
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
2 tbsp pine nuts
Handful of ready of eat apricots
300g/ 10oz bulghar
600ml/1 pint hot chicken stock
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped
1.Rub the harissa paste over the chicken. Heat the oil in a deep, non-stick pan, and fry the chicken for about 3 minutes or until just golden (it won’t be cooked through at this stage. Remove and set aside.
2. Add the onion and fry gently for 5 minutes, until soft. Toss in the pine nuts and continue cooking for another few minutes until toasted. Add the apricots, bulghar and stock, then season and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes until the stock has almost absorbed.
3. Return the chicken to the pan, re-cover and cook for 5 minutes over a low heat until the liquid has been absorbed and the chicken is cooked through. Fluff up the bulghar with a fork and scatter with the coriander to serve.