Mechouia salad is a simple but delicious grilled vegetable salad from Tunisia. Charred onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic are coarsely chopped, salted and seasoned, and drizzled with olive oil. There’s probably some fresh herbs served on top. By itself it’s a perfectly vegan dish. However, it’s usually garnished with hard boiled eggs, or olives, or a piece of fish (tuna)–or perhaps some combination of the three–added in moderation a la the Mediterranean style. In fact, in my view Mechouia salad is pretty much the quintessence of the Mediterranean diet in a single dish. Most of the healthful usual suspects are there. This is definitely the way to eat!
Mechouia Salad and Tunisian Cuisine
Welcome to the first recipe of 2018! Just by way of warning, this grilled Mechouia salad is something of a bellwether. Tunisian food is coming. I’ve developed a minor obsession of late, so this is the first dish of several.
The cuisines of the North African coast of the Mediterranean sea are incredible, and yet this is also the Mediterranean cuisine I am the least familiar with. The ingredients are largely the same as those used in southern Europe and the Middle East. However, the intensity and complexity of seasonings and the warm embrace of hot chilies really stands out. This is all well expressed in that ubiquitous North African condiment harissa (I have a recipe for that, of course!) which is something I have on hand at all times.
Now I’ve made a few Tunisian dishes in the past. Breakfasts. Always breakfast. I don’t know why. For instance, I’ve made this incredible chickpea soup, eaten for breakfast, called Lablabi. And then there’s the Shakshuka…
Ever had Shakshuka? If not, you must! I have a recipe right here. It’s been adopted by Israelis as a popular hangover breakfast. But shakshuka isn’t from Israel. It’s a Tunisian import, introduced by Sephardic Jews from Tunisia by way of reverse diaspora. Hot. Spicy tomatoes and peppers with eggs.
I’ve discovered there’s a very similar dish to shakshuka (in fact, it it essentially is shakshuka) called Ojja, so of course I’m going to be making that. And while there is a deluxe seafood version (I’ll be making that!), the typical way to serve Ojja is with Merguez sausage–a spicy, garlicky sausage made with lamb or beef. Yeah, I’ll be making that too, so I can put it in my Offa Merguez.
It was really kind of incidentally that I ran across Mechouia salad. It was in the course of all of this Ojja and Shakshuka research. There was, absurdly simple. Just char some vegetables and chop them up. So I did. It was delicious. Simple and delicious. Such a wonderful, wonderful way to eat.
How to Make Tunisian Mechouia Salad
I eat roasted vegetables all the time–especially in the winter when I don’t mind warming the kitchen up with the oven. That’s really all Mechouia salad is: roasted vegetables. With a barbecue grill it’s just as ideal for summer.
It couldn’t be much simpler. I just place a few whole ripe tomatoes, a red bell pepper, a few jalapenos, and a few onions on a baking sheet and stick it under the broiler. You could char them on the stove top as well if you have a gas range. Char everything until it’s totally black on the outside (you’re going to peel the burned outer layer off of everything, so don’t worry).
The point isn’t just to char them but to also to cook them by half roasting and half steaming them. Once they’re charred, put them in a bowl and seal the top with some plastic wrap to steam.
I recommend giving the onion a little extra attention on the grilling/roasting. The tomatoes aren’t very dense and the peppers are positively hollow inside. So they cook faster. The onions are solid and dense. So I let them char longer so they cook through to the center.
Parsley is the more typical herb to garnish with, I think, but I prefer cilantro so that’s what I used. And of course if you’re not a fan of hot chilies, you can always skip the hot chili peppers and add another bell pepper. But me? I like the warmth of the hot chilies.
Garlic figures prominently in this dish as well. A lot of recipes grill the cloves along with everything else, which of course mellows the flavor. I prefer hold the garlic back until the end, and then add it raw, finely minced so it’s sharp. The only downside, I suppose, is that people might not want to make out with you after you’ve eaten it with raw garlic. So if this is a first date food you should probably roast the garlic. Otherwise I recommend going raw.
- 4 Medium Tomatoes
- 2 Red Bell Peppers
- 2 Large Jalapeno Peppers
- 2 Small Sweet Onions, the outer paper leaves removed
- 1 Teaspoon Caraway Seeds
- ½ Teaspoon Coriander Seeds
- 2 Cloves Garlic, finely minced
- ¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
- Salt and Pepper to Taste
- Fresh Parsley or Cilantro
- One Hard Boiled Egg, peeled and cut into to quarters
- A few ounces of cooked tuna
- A small handful of olives
- Using either a grill or your oven’s broiler, char the outsides of the tomato, peppers, and onions until they’re completely blackened and blistered, turning frequently to char all sides. Pay particular attention to charring the onions black (the onions are dense and solid and take longer to cook). Place the vegetables in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap to allow them to steam in their own heat for 15 minutes.
- Peel the char off of the vegetables, coarsely chop them and place them in a bowl.
- Toast the caraway and coriander seeds in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they become fragrant. Grind them into a powder in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Add the spices with the olive oil and vinegar to the chopped vegetables and stir well. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve in shallow plates garnished as you wish.