Minina, one of the greatest classics of Jewish cuisine in North Africa, has many names, including meguina, makoud, ma’akoud, m’hmer, or just Jewish omelette.
Talking about Tunisian cuisine today is talking about the meeting of different culinary cultures, especially those from the Mediterranean, from Antiquity until today. First, because of its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean basin, Tunisia has been at the crossroads of almost every Mediterranean civilization and each of them has brought its way of life and its traditions.
To understand all the origins of Tunisian cuisine and Jewish Tunisian cuisine in particular, let’s talk about history.
History of Tunisian Cuisine
Tunisia, which is located on the edge of the Sahara Desert, is a North African country bordered on the West by Algeria, and on the Southeast by Libya. Close to Italy, the Sicilian Canal separates Tunisia from Europe. It is indeed only 50 miles from Sicilian waters.
It is probably in Tunisia, in the region of Kebili, that appeared the prehistoric man for the first time, during the Paleolithic era.
Archaeologists have found rudimentary stone tools dating back to around 200,000 years ago. At that time, the climate was colder and the current Saharan region was probably covered with forests and more abundant vegetation. Homo erectus fed on game meat and what land offered.
Then came the Phoenicians. The ancient people brought the culture of olives, fruits and vegetables from Asia Minor. The diet, made from wheat products, became more varied. A great novelty introduced by the Phoenicians was the bread oven, a round-shaped clay oven and open at the top, that is still used today in Tunisia and that is called tabouna.
An earlier version of this oven was found in a tomb dating from the fourth century BC. The most famous bread in Tunisia, khobz tabouna actually bears its name today.
In 146 BC, the territory of Carthage, located not far from Tunis, became the first Roman colony on the Mediterranean Sea. The Roman culinary art was very varied. Thanks to the wealth of agricultural production, the use of vegetables in the preparation of dishes was very abundant.
Eggs, fruits and spices were consumed in large quantities. Sugar did not exist in Roman times, but honey was used instead. Salt was a very valuable product that originated from the Sahara Desert.
The advent of Islam in the seventh century AD and the expansion of the Muslim empire created intense cultural exchanges. At first with the south of Spain, Andalusia, and all its rich culinary influences and especially thanks to the Andalusian immigrants in Tunisia, the cuisine was considerably enriched with many typical dishes.
The contribution of Italian cuisine has also played a very important role, especially thanks to the influence of Sicilians and Livornians settled in Tunisia. Thanks to them, Tunisians have seen the birth of different types of fresh and dry pasta made with tomato sauce, but also pizza, many soups and other traditional dishes.
This is how the cuisine of different Jewish communities attached to the history of Tunisian cuisine, gave birth to Tunisian Jewish cuisine, passed on from mother to daughter, generation after generation.
The egg throughout history
So back to our minina, which is ultimately an omelette with a large number of eggs, baked till golden brown. Minina is on the table of every celebration in North Africa.
When you understand the symbolism of the egg in general and in particular in all the cuisines of the world, you understand why minina, which is loaded with eggs, holds such an important place.
Omne vivum ex ovo!
“All living things are born of an egg,” as the famous Latin phrase says.
In most cultures, the egg is the image of perfection, and since ancient times a symbol of life and rebirth. The egg has always been a positive vital symbol. Emblem of a new life, metaphor of the rebirth of bodies and nature. These meanings have been attributed to it on all continents and in the oldest traditions and cultures.
The egg is an ancient food, already very present in the oldest Egyptian kitchens. The Greeks have consumed it since the time of Pericles and the Romans were using it both for desserts and sauces, in addition to breakfast food. It is probable that the Etruscans at the end of the Bronze Age also had the same habits.
The use of eggs spread more and more in the Middle Ages. They were used both to bind and flavor the different dishes in the kitchen, as well as dishes in the most varied forms.
From there it is easy to understand the importance of the egg, which is said to have a perfect shape. Its oval shape is said to have a line without beginning or end, which is reminiscent of eternity.
Where does the word omelette come from?
The origin of this word is due to the thinness of the omelette, compared to that of a blade. Indeed, omelette comes from the old French amelette or alemette (literally “thin plate”), variant of alumette in the fourteenth century, alumella, the old French lemelle (which became lamelle, thin plate). All these words came from the Latin lamella or lamina, which simply designates a blade or a small sheet of very thin metal.
The different variants of minina
In its most traditional form, minina is prepared with eggs and chicken, and this is the recipe featured here.
Some versions of minina use potatoes or bread crumbs to thicken them and others will even include vegetables such as peas, carrots, bell peppers.
In Tunisia, the potato-based version is called makoud or ma’akoud, while in Morocco it is often called in the same way but with an “a” at the end of the word, as in makouda (or ma’akouda). In Algeria, maaqouda is also made with potatoes and bread crumb and can be made in individual portions.
In some parts of Morocco, generally around Casablanca, it is called the m’hmer, which means “golden” or “blushed”, most certainly because m’hmer is baked in the oven.
In Morocco, there is a very popular variant, which I was raised on: brain meguina. It’s exactly the same recipe as the minina but chicken is replaced by beef brain. This recipe never includes potatoes, bread crumbs or diced vegetables.
In Morocco, the brain meguina is a real party meal, which is sometimes prepared with ostrich eggs or turkey eggs.
Tajine and Tunisian makroud
There are more than 40 varieties of tajines. They are also egg-based, baked, hot and cold preparations from the same family. Tunisian tajines are very different from Moroccan tajines, as a Tunisian tajine is a kind of thick omelette, baked in the oven and prepared with meat that is pre-cooked in a sauce that is then reused in the tajine.
Tunisian tajine also includes grated cheese, vegetables and eggs of course. It is also prepared with white beans that are cooked in a tomato sauce with meat, spinach, peas, and slata méchouia.
Some people completely cover the bottom of the baking dish of the Tunisian tajine with briks (tajine malsouka) or a thin layer of shortbread crust (tajine warka).
For the makoud, which is said to be part of the maâkouda family, tomato sauce is not included. Unlike minina, it incorporates a starch such as potatoes and often vegetables. The minina is therefore also a specialty that belongs to the maâkouda family.
The Tunisian makoud and Moroccan m’hmer look a bit like the Spanish tortilla, which is however cooked in the pan and not baked in the oven.
What are the health benefits of eggs?
In the Mediterranean diet, eggs are considered a youth elixir. Eggs are highly nutritious because they contain all the essential amino acids, especially those that the human body is unable to synthesize and must therefore get from their diet.
Eggs are fundamental at certain important times in life, for example to help with children and teenagers’ growth, or to fight against muscle loss with the elderly.
With an average weight of about 2 oz (60 g), a hen egg contains about 0.3 oz (10 g) of protein, divided between the albumen (white) and the yolk. The lipids in eggs, while of animal origin, are particularly mono- and polyunsaturated. These are healthy fats.
Egg fat is therefore among those that are good for health and it does not cause any increase in cholesterol, contrary to popular belief.
Hen egg is extremely rich in vitamins B and vitamins A, D, K, and E, as well as in phosphorus, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc and trace elements.
- 25 raw eggs
- 8 hard boiled eggs
- 1 lb chicken breast
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 carrot
- 2 onions
- 1 large lemon
- ½ cup sunflower oil
- White pepper
- In a Dutch oven, prepare a broth with the chicken breast, celery stalks, carrot, onions. Cover with boiling water, salt and pepper. Cook on low to medium heat for 30 minutes.
- Then, remove chicken from the broth and drain. Filter the broth and set aside.
- Peel the hard-boiled eggs and cut them roughly. Set aside.
- Shred the chicken finely.
- In a large bowl, combine the hard-boiled eggs and the chicken. Add the zest of the lemon and mix well.
- In another large salad bowl, beat the eggs and lemon juice into an omelette. Season with salt and pepper.
- Mix the two preparations.
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200˚C).
Pour the oil into a large loaf pan or cake mold with a non-stick coating. Tilt the mold in all directions to make sure all the edges are well greased.
- Place the mold in the hot oven for a few minutes to heat the oil (very important step).
- Pour all the mixture into the hot pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven.
- After 25 minutes of baking, open the oven and check the cooking with a skewer. It must come out clean but wet.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 F (180˚C).
- Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle generously with the broth previously reserved. Bake again immediately for 25 minutes.
- Again, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle it generously with broth. Bake again immediately for 20 minutes.
- Turn off the oven and let the minina cool completely inside the oven.
- Refrigerate for at least an hour before cutting.