What’s for Dinner?

When Tony and I were first married, we were happy to find that as fellow Californians exiled in Utah, we shared a passion for Mexican food. What we also shared was a fairly small cooking repertoire. So we ate a lot of burritos. In fact, I think if it had been up to him, we would still be eating burritos every night. After a few weeks of marriage, when I suggested we have something else for dinner, he looked up and said with bewildered dismay, “But I thought you liked burritos.”

Well, I still do like burritos. But I also like variety. It’s easy to get in a rut when dinner comes around every single day without respite. Especially when you’re mostly limited to the ingredients that can be found at your local Tunisian corner market. But culinary adventure and satisfaction is still possible, and there are even some distinct advantages to that Tunisian corner market. Such as the delectable creme fraiche, an exalted French version of sour cream that, thanks to Tunisia’s colonial roots, is available everywhere here. I once saw creme fraiche at a Whole Foods Market in the United States for $6.00! And I considered it a bargain to get it at Trader Joe’s for half that. Here, I can get it for 75 cents. Consequently, I now actually seek out recipes that feature it, rather than sighing over them as forbidden indulgences. And yes, since I knew you were just dying to ask, it also tastes heavenly on burritos.

Another delicious extravagance I’ve discovered in Tunisia is nutmeg. Sure, I’d used the dry brown powder in the plastic spice jar before. But I’m talking about the real, cherry-sized nuts with the funky marbled inside. I saw a special contraption once at an expensive store in Italy that was especially for grating nutmeg, so I’ve always thought I couldn’t do it myself until one day (in heaven maybe) I owned that contraption. That’s why I never bought nutmeg, even though I knew it must taste as much better than the powdered kind as real vanilla beans than vanilla extract (we won’t even mention artificial vanilla extract). However, one day at our first house in Tunisia, I was making a recipe that called for nutmeg, and I looked vainly in the cupboard for the powdered kind. But there was a little jar with two nutmeg-nuts in it, and one had obviously been grated with the miniature cheese grater! Now I use nutmeg all the time, just as if I were a real gourmet cook.

So with that said, here are a few of the non-Tunisian recipes I’ve been making lately, with ingredients that easily be found at the corner store in Tunisia (and if they can be found here, it’s a pretty good bet that you can find them in your corner of the world, too).

For lunch today, we had this tasty Sweet Red Onion and Edam Tart. Ever since my nursery rhyme and Alice in Wonderland days, I have a special fondness for anything called a tart. I looked up this recipe when our British neighbor gifted us with what he described as a “lump” of edam. The lump was as large as Dominique’s head, and cheese doesn’t last forever, so I wanted a way to enjoy it as a main dish. Someday (probably after I have a kitchen with either a proper food scale or actual measuring cups and spoons), I will make good pastry crust. But if you have that part down, the tart is delicious, although very rich. It makes a nice summer meal paired with salad. I don’t do the whole lowfat, low-cal thing, so I used regular creme fraiche, which turned out delightfully.

Much more dramatic though, was yesterday. Because I accomplished my first attempt at borscht. It looked just like the picture above (notice the generous dollop of creme fraiche), except I have not seen dill here, so I used parsley and mint. I also left out the potatoes, since I’m allergic, and the cabbage, since I happened to have none. I replaced the red wine vinegar with a combination of fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juice, just because. Beets have never tasted so good.

I have several recipes for beef stew, but I wasn’t 100% happy with any of them until I discovered Jamie Oliver’s. I confess, I had never heard of him before, but I am now convinced that he is a genius. The very last paragraph of the recipe (minus the part about the French red wine; I really can’t comment on that) has the secret to a beef stew that is not only good, but incredible. You really must try it.

Finally, here are two recipes for which ingredients (or suitable substitutes) can not be found easily and economically in Tunisia, so I’m dreaming of baking them someday, when I live somewhere else. Maybe you can make them for me and tell me how they turn out: Salted White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies and Whole Wheat Goldfish Crackers.

So, that’s what’s cooking at the Familia house this week. What’s on at yours?

photo credits: nutmeg, borscht

3 thoughts on “What’s for Dinner?

  • June 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    While we were living in Saudi Arabia an had the same problem or wonderful discovery, which ever way you want to look at it. We were told that the reason you can’t find powdered nutmeg in the Arab world, is because they consider it an aphrodisiac! (fyi, I’m your Great Uncle Jesse’s youngest daughter)

  • June 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    This post brought back so many memories. Jamie Oliver has a cooking show that used to play on TV in Damascus and I loved it. I especially remember that he was a huge fan of creme fraiche. They have it here, too. I might have to try out these recipes!

  • June 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Homemade spinach pesto with whole wheat pasta, artisan breadsticks, and a generous sampling of backyard garden produce: artichokes, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, plums, lettuce, arugula, maybe a potato or two, and an onion, fresh squeezed orange juice, loquats, and just for fun, some pineapple guava flower petals. Are you homesick (maybe just a tiny bit) for “this provincial life”?


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