I fell in love with Tunisian cuisine while we were in Marseille and we ate a lot of couscous there. I do believe couscous is the national dish of Tunisia but it’s also extremely popular in France – and for good reason, it’s quite affordable and very delicious. It was the first thing I wanted to recreate when I got home and a quick trip down Croydon’s Surrey Street Market gave me all the ingredients I required (you’ll see from the ingredient list below that all are easy to source).

Tunisian Lamb Couscous

I made the most basic of the couscous recipes – just with lamb (though I guess chicken or just vegetable are just as simple). And the recipe itself I cobbled together from a recipe in Saveur and another in a French cookbook – yeah, it’s been so absorbed in France that it features as a traditionally loved recipe in a very very French cookbook! Brilliant!

Tunisian Lamb Couscous

It turned out the recipe really was super easy and tasted just like the couscous we tried in Marseille. It’s very soothing (good for autumn or winter) – all that couscous soaking up the spicy broth – and it’s a good way to eat your vegetables. And it’s great for feeding a crowd – I know this because the two of us ate this for three meals in one week. So yeah, this feeds six.

Tunisian Lamb Couscous

Tunisian Lamb Couscous
Serves 6.

4-6 lamb chops
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2 courgettes
2 large carrots, peeled
1 turnip or daikon, peeled
Half a small white cabbage

A pinch of saffron
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 1/2 tbsps tomato paste
2 bay leaves
A shake of ground cloves

1 tin chickpeas, drained
Salt and pepper
Couscous
Chopped parsley
Lemon
Harissa (I bought a tube)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and brown the lamb chops on both sides. Cut all the vegetables into large chunks and add them all into the pot and stir it around a bit – they can go a little brown, that’s ok. Add water until everything’s covered and bring to a boil. Add the saffron, paprika, ginger, tomato paste, bay leaves and ground cloves and stir in. Let simmer until the lamb is tender and the vegetables are too – about 90 minutes to 2 hours. About an hour of the way in, add the chickpeas and continue simmering.

When you’re almost ready to serve, prepare your couscous, chop your parsley, cut your lemons into wedges for serving. Add salt and pepper to taste to the broth. Place couscous in a serving bowl and top with the lamb and some of the drained vegetables – scatter with a bit of chopped parsley. Serve bowls of the broth and more of the vegetables on the side. Serve with lemon wedges and harissa.

We arrived quite late on our first evening in Marseille and after dumping our stuff in our flat, we walked straight to the port, hoping that our noses would lead us to something good to eat. Unfortunately, most of the places we could see were chains or very expensive or blasting music (read: looking like a disco); later we would encounter the south side of the port and its plethora of tourist traps. It’s not easy to eat well by the port. There was one place on my list though – La Kahena, a Tunisian restaurant that was well rated. It was brightly lit and open (relatively) late and we got a table easily (it was a Tuesday night).

I couldn’t eat in a Tunisian restaurant and not have one of my favourite things in the world – brick (also spelled brik). This was a brick au thon, a thin pastry sheet filled with tuna, onion, parsley and egg and fried. Yes.

Brick au thon

We also split a couscous mechoui. Mechoui is a roasted lamb dish and sure enough, here was a big hunk of roasted lamb on our couscous…and lots of vegetables….and a boiled egg. Portion sizes were big here and we saw people ordering one for themselves and failing to make any significant indentation in their bowl.

Couscous Mechoui

On the side was a bowl of the broth the vegetables (and usually lamb) cook in. Pour it over the couscous and there’s some mighty fine eating.

Couscous Sauce

We finished the meal with sweet mint tea with nuts (pine nuts in my case and toasted almonds in Blai’s). I loved the pine nuts but we both got a bit fatigued by the almonds…there were just so many! (Not a normal complaint…) The Tunisian sweet we also ordered was alright, but had clearly been sitting around for a while.

Mint Tea with Nuts

La Kahena
2 Rue de la République
13001 Marseille
France

And that was our first taste of North African food in Marseille – we were hooked and we needed more. Luckily for us, there was a good restaurant only a 5 minute walk from our flat and we ate there twice during our visit. Their menu’s very similar to that at La Kahena but prices are lower (portion sizes were still large) – it’s only something like €7 for the basic lamb or chicken couscous. We found it quite easy to get a table (there were quite a few tables and most people didn’t linger).

We went for the most fancy couscous combination they had – the couscous royale. Again, couscous and the broth (the vegetables stayed in the broth this time) and a plate of meats.

Couscous Royale

Let’s take a closer look at that meat plate, shall we?

Boom.

All the Grilled Meat

A grilled lamb chop, braised lamb (in the vegetable broth), a beautifully braised tender meatball, a grilled lamb brochette and grilled merguez. It’s a bit too much meat for one but perfect for sharing between two.

And again, one of my favourite Tunisian things ever – another brick au thon! And it was another excellent specimen.

Brick au Thon

We even had it on our last night in the city (a Sunday). It being France, many restaurants were closed on Sunday night but not this place! We repeated the couscous and the brick as they were both brilliant and we added a salad as well.

Dinner

This was a mechouia salad – lettuce, tuna, boiled egg, tomato, olives and a roasted pepper relish. I loved those roasted peppers that seemed to pull everything together in this salad. Delicious.

Mechouia Salad

We finished our last meal in Marseille with mint tea….two mint teas each actually! Their tea was cheap and excellent – not too sweet. We did try their sweets but again, they were on the stale side – a bit of a letdown these sweets were.

Excellent Mint Tea

Saf Saf
29 rue Vincent Scotto
13001 Marseille
France

It’s no surprise that the French have embraced North African cuisine, especially couscous. It’s all delicious! If you’re interested in reading more about North African culture in Marseille, I recommend this article from the New York Times.

Roasting seems to be the cooking method of choice for vegetables lately in our flat. Yesterday, I cut a head of broccoli into little florets, tossed them with oil and roasted them at a high heat; after their edges went all brown and crispy, they were tossed into rice cooked with plenty of garlic and oyster sauce. Yum. Sure the roasting broccoli reeked of fart about halfway through cooking but I pressed on and the smell disappeared as the florets browned.

But this recipe I knocked together last week won’t stink out your flat. It will instead scent it with the sweetness from roasting onions and peppers and the spice from curry powder (a jar I was gifted that needed using up) and garam masala. All good, not like fart. And couscous is such an excellent lazy person’s carbohydrate; ever since I discovered that you can get away with just pouring over boiling water rather than steaming the grains, well, I was all over it (apparently this is because the couscous sold here has been pre-steamed). Again, this dish makes for a lovely light dinner and keeps extremely well for a packed lunch the next day too.

Curried Roast Vegetable Couscous

Oh yeah, and blah blah healthy blah blah packed lunch blah blah new year’s resolution.

Curried Roast Vegetable Couscous
serves 2.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 courgette
1 aubergine
1 red onion
(or any other vegetables that are suitable for roasting)
2 tbsps olive oil

1 cup of dry couscous
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp hot curry powder (or chilli powder, to taste)
1 tsp garam masala
salt
a few sprigs of fresh coriander

Preheat your oven to 200C.

Deseed the peppers and cut into medium sized chunks. Cut the aubergine into medium sized cubes and the courgette into similar sized chunks too. Quarter the onion and then sliced thinly. Toss all the vegetables into a roasting pan and drizzle over the olive oil. Toss together and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes – or until the vegetables are all roasted to your liking.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry couscous, teaspoon of olive oil, curry powder, garam masala and a good shake of salt. Pour in one cup of boiling water (same volume as of dry couscous – but refer to your box of couscous if necessary), give it all a good stir, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes has elapsed, flake it with a fork until it’s all fluffy.

When the vegetables are roasted to your liking, toss them in with the couscous. Chop the fresh coriander and throw that in too. Mix well and serve.