18 January 2018

Tues., Jan. 16, 2018 - Cooking Class

Cap Monastir Marina
Monastir, Tunisia

Since we are in Monastir for five months, we are looking for ways to enjoy the community.  I searched for a Tunisian cooking class and choices were limited to only one within one hour's drive.   A group of four of us signed up and headed out by taxi to Sousse, a larger city near by.
Rabaa and her absolutely charming daughter who is a commerce student at a French university in Aix En Provence.  She told us that she had been sad and homesick so came home for a week to be with her mum.  She was incredibly vivacious and sweet, happy and excited.  Made me miss my Emily but so fun to be around.  Lots of love between those two.

Rabaa, the woman who taught the class was widowed about ten years ago.  She lived alone in an enormous house and her two adult daughters felt that she needed someone to share it with.  Her home is now a AirBNB, with cooking classes one of the offered accompaniments.

As a child, Rabaa  had learned to cook from the women in her extended family who all gathered in the kitchen to prepare meals together.  Her large kitchen was still a gathering place - through the day, people dropped by and were always welcome to sit on the stools at the counter or around the kitchen table to chat and chop or just read in convivial silence.  Rabaa's shelves were full of preserves - jams, spiced lemons, pickles, syrups.  She had three very large amphorae of olive oil pressed from the tree in her yard.  Her fruits and vegetables were kept on a large sill at the window.
An enthusiastic vendor at the market.  Tunisians are very friendly and welcoming.

Breads are a bit of conundrum here.  Mainly in round flat loaves.  We had a lesson in identification.  White baguettes are ubiquitous.  People buy dozens at a time for a CDN dime.  They are served in enormous baskets at all restaurants with olives and harissa.

Spices.  In our cooking class we used garlic, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and ginger in combinations .

Our class began with an excursion to the medina.  A group of us had previously been to the Sousse medina, a World Heritage Site.  It is a collection of narrow walkways, some covered with all sorts of specialty shops - a jewelry area, rug area, spice area, clothing, produce, fish, meat, pastries, sweets, etc. etc.  There are mosques, museums, a residential area, all squished into a relatively small walled area.  We had explored and wandered the many streets on the previous visit.  It was an eye-opener with things to see, hear and smell around every corner.
Instead of a sign...we knew what this shop sold.

Fish is always tough for me to buy.  Besides tuna, flounder, sardines and mahi mahi, I usually can't identify any in the market.  In the Monastir market, the fish are seldom iced, just sitting on a wet counter which also makes me a bit leery.  It was great to wander with Rabaa who obviously knew what she was looking for.  We didn't find these Murling or Whiting until we'd wondered through two different fish markets.  I was glad to see the ice.

This time we headed straight to the food area buying a honeyed, very light pastry on the way which resembled a doughnut but melted in your mouth.  We checked out spices and bought cookies, fish, tons of vegetables and octopus for our dinner.  Then to the chicken store outside the medina.  At a cheese boutique we sampled Tunisian-made cheese of European varieties.  Tunisians are not traditionally into cheese.  As a matter of fact, the cheese most often offered in grocery stores are those processed cream cheese things that come in a round box with each triangle wrapped in tin foil - you know the ones.  So a cheese boutique was a real find. Then to the shop that only sells wraps for bricks, a very traditional Tunisian appetizer or lunch.  It is an exceptionally thin, deep-fried pastry stuffed with assorted meats, tuna, egg, and/or veg.  The shop only sold the wraps - freshly made each day by the hundreds by the mother of the shop owner and kept under a cloth to keep them moist on a single table.
These brick wraps on this single table was all there was for sale in this otherwise empty shop where the male shopkeeper sold his mother's creations by the hundreds, maybe even thousands.
 Finally, we went to the herbalist who had all kinds of concoctions in jars lining his large shop.  Tunisians seem to be into medicinal herbs to treat assorted complaints - if only we could speak French well enough we could have an interesting lesson.

After four hours of shopping, we headed back to the house to cook up a storm - one chef and four kitchen staff
On the menu:
Chicken stew
Eggplant and tomato salad
Fennel and cabbage salad
Fried cauliflower
Baked herbed fish with roe sacs
Chicken Bricks
We love octopus but have always been a bit intimidated at the idea of cooking it.  I was very happy that it was on the menu.  Boil until tender.  Cut up and saute in all the good stuff.  Easy really.
Left to right:  fennel, cabbage and tomato salad, fried cauliflower, eggplant, tomato salad.  At the back some leftover filling for the brick.

Bricks filled with chicken, potato, green onions and lots of spice.

Chicken stew with zucchini, carrots, shelled peas, artichoke hearts, quince and again lots of spice.  All vegetables were prepared from fresh.

After eight hours of shopping, cooking and eating, we headed home by taxi with leftovers to be shared with our husbands.  Great fun, great day!

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