America has had what can best be described as a crush on Mediterranean cuisine for more than 20 years. While much of Americans focus has been on the Mediterranean diet, based on people from the island of Crete, there are actually 21 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and two island nations located in it.
Tunisia is one of the smallest countries in the Mediterranean region and is the northernmost country in Africa, covering 64,000 square miles. It's bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya in the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Geographically it has a very diverse topography, as it contains the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains, as well as the northern reaches of the Sahara Desert.
The Mediterranean basin is known for its mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers, which allows the region's forests, woodlands, and scrub vegetation to thrive. Olive trees, while native to ancient Persia (modern day Iran) and Mesopotamia (Iraq, Turkey and Syria)
have thrived throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Like all countries in the Mediterranean basin, Tunisia offers a "sun cuisine", based mainly on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, seafood and meat.
In 2015, Tunisia was the world's 2nd largest producer of olive oil, although 60-70% of this is shipped to Spain, Italy and France for rebottling as their own.
The signature spice blend in Tunisia is Tabil, pronounced "ta ble". While most of North Africa is best known for complex spicing (Berbere, Ras el Hanout and Harissa Spice), Tabil is simple, graceful and will intensify just about anything.
Tunisia has a culinary reputation for spicy fieriness which comes from its unique geographical location. For much of its history, this tiny African nation has been colonized by Berber tribes, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Normans of Sicily, Ayyubids, Spanish, the Ottoman Empire and the French - all of whom added bits and pieces to what became Tunisia's diverse and savory cuisine.
In Arabic, the word Tabil loosely translates to "seasoning" much as the word "adobo" means seasoning in Latin countries. It is believed by food historians that Tabil was introduced to Tunisia in 1492 by Muslims migrating to the area after the fall of Granada (located next to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Andalusia in the south of Spain).
Tunisia also has a reputation for taking couscous creativity to a whole new level. Sfax, Tunisia's second largest city, was for many years home to the world's largest couscous factory.
Harissa is a fiery Tunisian chili paste comprised of dried chiles, olive oil, garlic and spices, and has been described as Tunisian ketchup. Harissa adds flavor complexity to the cuisine, and as with many regional flavors, has no one single recipe. Some families prefer to make theirs very spicy hot, while others prefer a milder version.
Tagines are very popular in northern Africa, but a tagine (may also be spelled as tajine) in Tunisia is very different from one in Morocco. A Tunisian tajine is more like a quiche without a crust, made with beaten eggs, grated cheese, meat and various vegetable fillings and baked. It is often served as an appetizer or light lunch.
Popular spices in Tunisian cuisine include anise, black pepper, caraway, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, red pepper, saffron and white pepper.
Tabil is used to make a Tunisian grilled pepper and tomato salad called "mechwya" that is often used as a topping for couscous. Be careful, as Tabil is a bit addicting, and you may well find yourself adding a spoonful to just about everything. We've used in on flatbreads, as a seasoning for beans, scrambled eggs, grilled chicken, baked fish, slow cooked lamb, hummus, soup, tajines and even popcorn.
Tabil is hand blended with garlic, coriander, caraway and red pepper flakes.
You'll first notice the warm, gentle spicy nuttiness of the coriander followed by the roasted garlic flavor, then you'll pick up some mild heat in the back of your throat, and to finish it off you'll notice the biting, warm earthiness of the caraway.
Serving Size1 tsp
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*