Tunisian Odyssey

A cook's travels reveal another Mediterranean diet.

By Deborah Madison

Photography by Mitch Mandel


datesDates with Rose-Almond Paste and Tangerines

By April or May, we've already been cooking rhubarb and are looking forward to garden strawberries. However, it's also the very end of the citrus, with the sweet little 'Pixie' tangerines closing the season. Dates are still moist, too, especially the large, plump 'Medjool' from California.

  • 3 ounces almond paste
  • A few drops red food coloring
  • 1-3 teaspoons rose water, or to taste
  • A few tablespoons red, unsprayed rose petals from your garden, shredded
  • 10 dates, slit lengthwise, seeds removed
  • Late-season tangerines, such as 'Pixie'

1. Knead the almond paste with the food coloring until it is as pink as you wish. Then work in rose water to taste, followed by the rose petals.

2. Divide the paste into 10 pieces, roll each piece into an oval, and stuff it into a date.

3. Arrange the dates on a plate, interspersed with the tangerines, and serve.


Chickpea Stew with Eggplants, Tomatoes, and Peppers
Here's a place to use some different varieties of vegetables, such as 'Corno di Toro' peppers (instead of or in addition to bells), 'Ichiban' or 'Farmers' Long' eggplants, and all manner of tomatoes. Each size and type of vegetable will no doubt suggest a different way of chopping and slicing, but on the whole, keep the pieces large and attractive. Serve over couscous or bulgur, with a dab of harissa on each plate or stirred into the broth, to taste.

  • 1-1 1/2 pounds eggplant, one or more varieties
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 large onion, diced in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large yellow or red bell or other sweet, thick-fleshed pepper, cut into triangles or strips
  • 2 zucchini, cut into rounds 1-2 inches thick
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cups or more chunks of tomato, peeled and seeded first, any juices reserved
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, preferably organic
  • 8 sprigs cilantro and 8 sprigs parsley, chopped Harissa, for serving

1. Cut the eggplant into hefty chunks, choosing a shape that works with the variety you have. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside for 30 minutes to release the juices. Rinse quickly and pat dry.

2. Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a wide skillet over high heat until hazy. Add the eggplant and stir quickly. Reduce heat to medium and cook, turning the pieces every few minutes, until golden, about 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, pepper pieces, and zucchini and cook until the onions are lightly browned around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Toward the end, add the paprika, turmeric, and garlic, taking care not to burn. Stir in the tomato paste, then moisten the pot with a few tablespoons water and scrape up the juices from the bottom. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, chickpeas, 11/2 cups water (or the liquid from home-cooked or organic chickpeas), and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the cilantro and parsley.

Serves 4 to 6