We are headed to Tunisia for a delicious cumin-scented potato stew called batata bel kamoun (or batata bel camoun).
This is no surprise to anyone: Tunisian cuisine is typical Mediterranean cuisine. Over the centuries, it has been influenced by numerous cultures, including Berber, Punic, Arab, Jewish, Turkish and Italian.
Also, the cuisine varies with the regional climate, the geography of the country and the local products. In Tunisia, cooking occupies a place of choice in the daily life and in the festivities, whether they are family or religious celebrations.
People often invite each other to eat together and the festivities are usually marked by the presence of special dishes. Thus, traditional dishes are served for guests at wedding ceremonies and vary from region to region. In Djerba, for example, yehni (meat stew with tomato sauce, pumpkin, potato, pepper, chickpeas and raisins) and meat couscous are served in most weddings.
Among the most used ingredients in Tunisian cuisine, wheat is a mainstay of the diet. It is found mainly in the form of bread, or semolina.
Olives, olive oil and meat (especially mutton, beef, chicken or even camel in some southern regions) are also in the spotlight. Along the coast, people particularly like fish and seafood (squid, octopus, tuna, sea bream, and sea bass).
Fish couscous is also one of the delicious specialties that is the pride of Tunisian cuisine. Couscous, mloukhiya (thick sauce made with Jew’s mallow and veal, consumed at the time by the pharaohs), tajines, slata mechouia, briks with egg, lamb stews with okra, and grilled fish are among the countless dishes that will transport your taste buds.
What is batata bel kamoun?
Batata bel kamoun is a potato stew with cumin and harissa. It is a popular dish that warms the heart and the stomach! It consists of potatoes, beef or lamb, cumin and harissa. It is usually eaten in winter with Tunisian Italian bread.
There are countless varieties of stews in Tunisia. They are called marqa or morga depending on the region. The marqa batata (potato stew) is a classic of Tunisian cuisine. Do not skimp on the spiciness! If you do, it won’t be Tunisian.
Traditional Tunisian stews include pea and chicken stew (marqa jelbana), pumpkin stew (marqa glarha), vegetable stew (marqa rothra) and the traditional okra stew (marqa gnawaia). And let’s not forget the regional and ethnic specialties! They often depend on seasonal products. Tunisian cuisine is an authentic, colorful and balanced cuisine, where sun-kissed fruits and vegetables have a special place.
What are the spices used in Tunisian cuisine?
The basic spices of Tunisian cuisine are cumin, coriander, caraway, turmeric, hot pepper, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, clove, saffron, nigella seeds (which, according to popular belief would protect against the evil eye) and cubeb (tailed pepper).
These spices are most often combined. Coriander and caraway are traditionally used together while pepper and chili are added to most dishes. Ras el-hanout is a blend of pepper, dried rosebuds, cinnamon bark, cloves and ground cubeb seeds. Other secret spices are often included in this blend and Tunisian grandmothers preciously keep the secret of their recipe!
Spices certainly bring flavor to the dishes, but in Tunisia, they are an element of family and cultural identity in their own right. Tunisian cuisine is often made with harissa, a chili paste made from dried peppers, crushed garlic and spices. People in certain regions of Tunisia like Nabeul, are particularly very fond of it.
Meat and potato stews around the world
Various versions of meat and potatoes stew are popular around the world and the batata bel kamoun has a lot of cousins.
In Cuba, carne con papas is a stew made from potatoes, cubed beef and cumin. It is probably the closest cousin to batata bel camoun. Its particularity: the sauce includes white wine!
In Spain and Latin America, you can enjoy picadillos. Although close to Cuban carne con papas, Spanish picadillos use ground meat. There are several variants, and the vegetables change from one region to another.
In Senegal, you will taste the touffé, Wolof word that is in fact derived from the distortion of French “étouffé”. No cumin, but a stew prepared with potatoes and veal.
In Hungary, pörkölt is a meat stew (beef, veal, pork, horse, lamb or mutton) prepared with a lot of onions and paprika, which gives it its typical red color. Beyond the borders of Hungary, it is often wrongly named goulash, which actually describes a Hungarian soup that also contains paprika.
In France, the barboton is a stew made of lamb meat and diced potatoes, as well as carrots. This is a stew from the region where I grew up near Saint-Etienne. It was customary to make this dish for Sunday as the Saint-Etienne region considered lamb as a luxury meat.
In Romania, tocana is a meat stew, usually made from veal, pork or lamb with onions, potatoes and smântână (crème fraiche). Tocana is always accompanied by mămăligă (cornmeal porridge).
In the Jewish tradition, hamin (Mishnaic Hebrew: חמין “hot”) is a stew of beef, barley and potatoes stewed over low heat for hours. Hamin, which is called tcholent by the Ashkenazi Jews and dafina by Sephardic Jews, comes in as many variants as there are Jewish communities and customs, constituting one of the main dishes of the Shabbat and holiday tables.
Tunisia’s tfina haricha is prepared with meat, barley and potatoes. A variant often cooked for holidays is made from spinach and is named after the Tunisian word for this vegetable, pkaïla.
In Indonesia, the stew of potatoes and meat takes the name of semur. The word semur is derived from the Dutch word smoor. It means “food stewed with other ingredients”, usually tomato and onions. Demur daging or semur jawa, a stew of beef and potatoes is widespread in Indonesia. Its main ingredient is kecap manis, a local sweet soy sauce.
In Persian and Turkish cuisines, khoresh is used to refer to stews. In Iran, stews are characterized by the use of saffron to give a distinctive and fragrant character. The most popular khoresh are khoresh gheymeh (split peas and potatoes), khoresh ghormeh sabzi (mix of herbs) and khoresh fesenjaan (pomegranate and walnut). Khoresh gheimeh is a lamb or beef stew with split peas, onions, potatoes, tomato puree and dried lemons.
In Russia, you will taste zharkoye, which is also very close to Tunisian batata bel kamoun. Cumin is used sparingly. However, they use garlic!
I hope you enjoyed this short world tour of meat and potatoes stew! Let me know when you have finished your batata bel kamoun, as I will be back with wonderful Tunisian pastry recipes.
Enjoy your meal !
- 3 lb white potatoes , cut into large pieces
- 1 lb beef , cut into large pieces (chuck or scoter)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon harissa (according to taste)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 cloves garlic , crushed
- In a large pot, add the oil and heat over medium heat.
- Brown the meat on all sides for a few minutes.
- Add the garlic. Cover with boiling water and cook for 45 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the potatoes and mix well.
- Add the cumin, harissa, salt, pepper and tomato paste and mix well.
- Cover and simmer again over low heat for 45 minutes.
- The sauce should be compact, unctuous and reaching the height of the potatoes and meat. Therefore, add boiling water during cooking or reduce the sauce by increasing the heat, if necessary.
- Present the dish with the meat in the center and the potatoes around. Drizzle the sauce over.
- Serve with Tunisian Italian bread.