My Citizens – I am relieved to be back posting again after a several week unplanned hiatus! I’ve been incredibly ill with what was almost certainly COVID-19, although *3* rapid tests AND a PCR test all came back negative. I’ve been coughing spasmodically, non-stop, for more than two weeks now and have been bed-ridden – truly one of the worst illnesses I’ve ever had the misfortune to pick up! However, let us return to the series of 7 African recipes I started weeks ago – today is number 6!
For the record, I am quite certain I picked this up in either Norway or the UK, the countries I had spent two weeks in immediately before catching this on My return home! Personally – I am sure I caught it in Heathrow – the single most contagion-infested airport I have ever had the ill-fortune of flying through! Its dank halls – combined with people mixing from literally EVERYWHERE in the world without masks – have always contributed to getting me sick every time I fly through there…
For this recipe, we jump all the way to the top of Africa – specifically to the Maghreb region! The Arabic word ‘maghreb’ means ‘place where the sun sets’, i.e. the west, in opposition to ‘mashriq’ ‘place where the sun rises’, i.e. the east. In modern usage, the Maghreb comprises the political units of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. It is in fact to Morocco we shall be headed with today’s recipe – and it is one that I am confident will become a vegetarian standard in your repertoire!
Taktouka (Arabic: تكتوكة) is a traditional Moroccan savory dish and spread made from tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, toasted paprika, various spices and olive oil. It is prepared by grinding all the ingredients together, or by cutting them in small pieces. Taktouka is consumed during all seasons of the year and is prepared as a mezze, together with other dishes. A side dish, it is served semi-warm or cold, typically with bread. This is a rare vegetarian recipe that has found great favor in My eyes!
Before we jump into the background of the recipe, allow me to ‘set the mood’ by sharing this video of the foods of the Moroccan open-air market or ‘souk’ in the ancient city of Fez!
As noted on the excellent website afrifoodnetwork.com:
Salads are an important part of Moroccan cuisine and taktouka is one of the most beloved salads.
Now, I know the first thing you might think is why would you need a recipe if taktouka is a salad? The answer is simple; taktouka isn’t a typical salad and it requires some cooking. But before we get to the actual recipe, let me give you some background.
What is Taktouka? It sounds like shakshouka right? And it even looks somewhat similar if you try really hard to see similarities. The word taktouka is derived from the Arabic verb taktak meaning to grind.
It is an extremely popular dish. In Morocco, it is a very common warm salad, like zaalouk, made mainly of very simple ingredients: roasted bell peppers, fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil.
The salad originates from Morocco but is also popular in Algeria. In the eastern part of Morocco, this salad is known as flifla while in Algeria, they call it felfla mechouia.
History & Origin Of Taktouka – This dish has its origin in the former Ottoman Empire. Tomato-based stews were one of the most common appetizers throughout the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. In North Africa, these dishes were referred to as shakshouka and consisted of cooked vegetables and liver or minced meat.
As trading with the American continent and Europe grew, tomatoes and chili (sic) peppers were added to these gravies and became so popular that a vegetarian version of this dish eventually appeared.
The exact origins of taktouka are disputed. Some historians believe the dish originated in Spain, others claim it was invented in today’s Israel (and brought to North Africa by Tunisian Jews), and others claim the dish is 100% Moroccan.
However, there’s no doubt that the original recipe is a part of Moroccan cuisine today.
Taktouka Vs Shakshouka – shakshouka is a similar Tunisian dish with similar ingredients and preparation methods but there are some differences.
The main difference is shakshouka is served as a main course dish while taktouka is an appetizer. Shakshouka originates from Tunisia and is a saucier and slightly spicier version of taktouka that features a poached egg on the top.
The dish is also popular in Israel and the southern islands of Sicily where it’s referred to as sciakisciuka. Both dishes have coexisted for centuries and it’s difficult to say which one came first. Regarding the recipe, you can always experiment and add large pieces of smoked peppers rather than grinding. This makes the peppers chewier and adds a very nice texture to the dish. It’s not the traditional way to make it but it can save you some time.
And last but not least, adjust this recipe depending on the region you’re coming from. I’m saying this because tomatoes are sweeter in some parts of the world and if you happen to come from them, perhaps you should skip adding caster sugar to your recipe.
The right way to eat taktouka is by dipping some khobz (or some other Moroccan bread) into the salad or as a side dish with grilled meat, fish, or a stew but if you like it, you can eat it as a sandwich or as a snack alongside some harcha bread.
Taktouka is usually served warm but it’s also quite tasty when served cold. I’ll go as far as to say that taktouka is just as tasty if not even more the next day after preparing it. Just to mention that eating this without bread, or any other saucy Moroccan dish, is just wrong. They are made to be enjoyed with bread.
As I am still feeling quite poorly, I am going to keep this post relatively short so I can rest up and try to completely get over this fell and unhallowed virus – but I will at least detail what my primary changes to the original recipe were! The big change is using some edible (NOT TOPICAL!) Argan oil from Morocco to add an additional, nutty flavor profile to the spread – it’s delicious and I’m shocked it is not in the original recipe (it should be!) You can buy top-quality edible Argan oil here.
I also call for My own, unmatched ras el hanout spice blend in this, making it FAR more flavorful than the usual sweet paprika it is replacing. Aleppo pepper is a superior substitute for cayenne pepper, at least in my not-so-humble-opinion – this is a a good brand. Lastly, I find a drop or two of liquid hickory smoke flavor really makes this vegetable dip into something truly special – please do give it a try! The rest of My changes are outlined in the recipe ingredient details.
My Citizens – COVID-19 is nothing to mess around with, assuming this was indeed what laid me low these last few weeks. Get your booster shots in September for the Omicron variant (current vaccines will help, but not as much as the new ones coming in a few weeks that are optimized specifically for the Omicron BA.5 variant) and stay safe – trust Me, you DO NOT WANT TO EVER CATCH THIS if you can possibly avoid it!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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