Food is a great way to understand cultures. And today, we explore Tunisia, a country in North Africa.

Tunisian cuisine can seem like a very exotic experience to many who are unfamiliar as the ingredients in most dishes are not usually used together in other countries.

Tunisian, Ilham Naja Slim gave us a lowdown on her take of the various dishes prepared specially during the holy month. In Tunisia, every dish is cooked different in various homes, she said. Ilham with her husband Dr Slim Zekri and her three children has been in Oman for around 14 years.

Like any other household, evenings are special during the month of Ramadan but Ilham answers with much ease despite the crammed schedule, as we throw a volley of questions at her. During Ramadan, afternoons are busy as one has to prepare a variety of stuff for iftar, said Ilham as the aroma of food wafts through.

“I am making bseesa (a crushed bread made of seeds) and briek,” she said. “Ramadan is the holiest and a very special month where streets are decked and homes are lit up in our country. It’s a great time to meet, eat and being close to God. In Tunisia, we usually break our fast with milk and dates followed by hareesa and couscous (the centrepiece of traditional Tunisian cuisine).”

Famous the world over, couscous is a staple in Tunisian meals and commonly served with various meats, peppers, chickpeas, potatoes and carrots explains Ilham. “Derived from semolina, you will find couscous on nearly every dinner table in Tunisia.”

Another most common appetiser served in Tunisia is briek. Essentially, fried triangular pastries, the dish is stuffed with a variety of fillings. Some of the fillings include potatoes, eggs, or tuna. The flavourful packets once stuffed are fried in grapeseed oil, said Ilham.

“Brieks are served with lemon juice. The spicy tomato-based ojja is another traditional dish that is a star of our country,” beams Ilham. There are two main varieties of ojja, one with eggs and merguez (a spicy lamb sausage in a savoury tomato sauce) and another with seafood. Gorge on it for a hearty, filling meal paired with the Tunisian grilled salad and tagine (a spongy mix of eggs, veggies more like an Italian frittata). Ilham stresses on having more wholesome foods during Ramadan and being more spiritual. “We have grains, proteins and fruits during suhoor. Ramadan is about introspection, and spending more time praying and with family.” Ilham shares with us recipes some of Tunisia’s and her favourite.


BRIEK (Fried triangular pastries)


2 large sweet potatoes
Vegetable oil
450g minced lamb meat
1 large white onion sliced
1tsp ground cinnamon
Chilli powder to taste
Ground cumin to taste
1 1/2 tsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 spring onions, chopped
1 large egg
2tbsp butter
1 pack filo pastry


  • Preheat oven to 200°C or on gas mark 6
  • Put sweet potatoes in the centre of the oven on a baking tray and cook for around 20 minutes, or until soft
  • Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the lamb mince and white onion in the vegetable oil
  • Add coriander, cinnamon, chilli powder and cumin
  • Put cooked mince and onion into a large bowl. Peel the sweet potatoes and place in a separate bowl Mash the sweet potatoes with butter, not too much, as the sweet potato will already be soft
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Add sweet potato, spring onions and egg to the mince mixture and mix well uMelt around 2tbsp butter in a small pan
  • Place the filo pastry on a work surface and take a sheet of the pastry and put a damp tea towel on the other sheets (filo pastry dries out very quickly)
  • Brush the sheet of pastry with some butter and add a sprinkle of cinnamon and chilli. Place another sheet on top, and repeat the brushing and seasoning. Do this thrice
  • Cut three piled sheets of pastry diagonally to make two triangles. Pack in a dollop of the lamb mixture into one corner of both pastry triangles
  • Fold the pastry over the dollop of mixture, pinching the sides and brushing with butter
  • Repeat the procedure with the remaining lamb mixture. Place all the triangular packets on a baking tray
  • Bake until golden brown. Serve hot

Couscous with lamb, dried fruits


1/2 cup of couscous
1/2lt water
1tsp salt for the red sauce
700g chopped lamb meat
1 large onion diced
200g carrots quartered
2-4 green peppers, whole 2 potatoes, peeled and sliced in half 1 and a half cups of extra virgin olive oil
1tsp of harissa (or more if you are feeling adventurous)
2tbsp of concentrated tomato paste
1/2tsp salt and black pepper for seasoning
75g assorted dried fruits (prunes, apricots, sultanas, etc) chopped

To make couscous it’s best to use a steamer which allows the couscous to sit above the sauce as it cooks, steaming the grains and infusing them with flavour


  • To prepare the sauce, fry the meat with the onion in olive oil in the lower part of couscous steamer for a few minutes
  • After the meat is brown, add the chickpeas, salt and black pepper, tomato paste, harissa, carrots and peppers
  • Add 500ml of water, bring to boil and simmer for ten minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and continue to cook
  • Once the sauce is ready, put the couscous in the upper part of the steamer and place over the sauce. Leave for 20 minutes to allow the couscous to absorb the steam
  • The couscous should be sprinkled with water and fluffed up (by hand if it is not too hot) every few minutes, to remove any clumps
  • Add the dried fruit to the sauce and return the couscous to steam for another five minutes
  • Once the couscous and the vegetables are cooked, put in a large bowl and blend it with olive oil or butter
  • Mix the sauce with the couscous to get a nice red combination
  • Season and serve


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