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« Wine Pairing Part I - Fish Tagine | Main | Return to Timbuktu by Camel, Part 2 »

September 20, 2005

Tunisian Chicken Chorba by Anis Toumi

This is one version of Tunisian chorba. Chorba means soup.  Why is it different from a Moroccan chorba? The heat from peppers of course. If you read a recipe for spicy, as in hot, Moroccan dish chances are you are reading a recipe that is Tunisian or Eastern Algerian that someone is just calling "Moroccan" for the sake of touristy imagery. Traditionally Moroccans did not embrace the chili pepper. Harisa became a restaurant item in Morocco for tourists than Moroccans started using it at home. There is a huge gap in the way Moroccans and Tunisians spice the same dishes. This huge gap is called the country of Algeria. I will leave the job of filling in the gap to Farid.

Tunisia is the smallest country in the Magrheb and it is also the most unified. Algerians can argue endlessly about the spicing and seasoning for a dish. I have seen this with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. Sometimes there is much shock, "you put peppers in that?!?!?" Or, "you put nutmeg in your chorba?!?!?!" Or, "you put cinnamon in your mesfouf or bil zbib??!!?"

The Moroccan specialty is to argue they invented the cuisine of the Magrheb. They will incorrectly claim that pastilla and chicken with olives and preserved lemons  were "invented" in Morocco. I have a recipe for a spicy Tunisan fish pastilla that I will post later.

A Tunisian chorba should have the robust flavors of garlic, peppers and spices. This is not about delicate flavors, it is about big, bold satisfying flavors. Tunisians will usually agree that most dishes should be hot. A wife who does not love her husband makes him mild dishes.


1 whole chicken, jointed

1 cup chick peas, you can use dried that have been soaked overnight or canned. For this dish i don't see a problem using canned chick peas.

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1  tomato coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of tomato paste

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 stalk of celery coarsely chopped

1 carrot coarsely chopped

1 potato cut into cubes

1/4 pound vermicelli noodles, cut into 2" pieces

1 tablespoon of tabil spice blend

1 tablespoon of tabil chili paste or harisa

3-4 leaves of basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil


1. Saute the onions for 20 minutes or until they begin to caramelize, add the garlic and saute for a few minutes more.

2. Add the carrots and celery, saute for about 10 minutes.

3. Add the tomato paste and saute for about 10 minutes over low heat. This is a very common North African cooking technique. It mellows out the flavor of tomato paste.

3. Add the chicken, chick peas and enough water to cover, season with salt and tabil spice blend, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer cook one hour.

4. Add the potatoes, tomatoes and tabil chili paste, taste for seasoning, add more salt if needed. Cook about 20 minutes longer, add the vermicelli and cook for a 5 minutes more.

5. Just before service add torn basil leaves.

I like to eat this with a leavened khobz and a side of harisa! I will post a photo of the dish the next time I make it.


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Thank you, thank you Anis! Have you any idea how long I have been trying to convince people that regarding spicy hot Moroccan cooking??? Honestly I have re-written the same things again and again and people won't let go of the Harissa thing especially which I have NEVER seen in a Moroccan home or local's restaurant! We do ocassionally use a pickled hot pepper, 1, in some tagines and dihes and we do ocassionally enjoy spicy hot food. Morocco's MAIN seasoning for heat is ground black pepper used in fair quantity. I will post my Moroccan Chorba recipe now so the difference can be seen!

Whew! This is good to know Anis. And much simpler for me. And I already have these spices - cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper! Thanks!

Paz (who will learn to think like a North African when preparing all dishes) ;-)


The spice blend is not a must. You can just use cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper.

Think like a North African when you preparing North African dishes.

We do not worry about we do not have. We take care with what we do have.

I like the idea of the "big, bold satisfying flavors" in the meal.

Cute saying: "A wife who does not love her husband makes him mild dishes." ;-)

I have to find time to make the tabil spice blend and other spices.... then I can start cooking.


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