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Tunisian Potatoes

October 27, 2013

I returned from Israel inspired by what I saw, what I learned and  of course, what I ate. We didn’t rent a car while we were there because family advised against Novio taking the wheel on the winding roads of Haifa. Could it be your reputation preceded you? Uhhh, probably by next time we’ll be ready to do the renting thing. In any case, not driving was highly entertaining. We are blessed to have cousins both in Tel Aviv and in Haifa who are not only very able drivers but can also give any Israeli historian a run for his money. Thanks to them, we saw spots and soaked up tales that you wouldn’t find on any mainstream touring itinerary.

When said cousins weren’t around, for example at 10 PM following a dialysis treatment at Rambam, we grabbed a taxi back up the hill.

Rambam Hospital - plans underway

We learned a few things about Israeli cabbies. First, tipping is not customary when it comes to cabbies (in restaurants, yes – but in cash only). No wonder, we got a very surprised look the first time we gave a nice tip. Next, I kept thinking it was the driver’s wife or mom who got out of the passenger seat before we got  in. Nope. When I asked if I could sit in the front where it was more comfortable, I was always met with a what?-you don’t-even-need-to-ask shrug. Novio and I got to practice our Hebrew in every cab, talking about all manner of things: music and favorite radio stations with Moti, soccer  and Czech cars with David and then there was Victor.

Victor was a very amiable fellow who, after a long career, didn’t enjoy sitting at home being in his wife’s way. So he bought a cab and has been happily driving people around his beloved  Haifa  fot the past two years. A French Tunisian Jew, he proudly told me of his  cooking skills, passed on to him from his father. You know my ears perked up. He didn’t need to be pushed too hard to tell me more. He had been a driver in the army and all he would hear was the soldiers complaining about the bad food they were getting. His heart went out them. There was no reason our soldiers should not have good food. So one weekend, he offered to relieve the cook. For the next few days, three hundred soldiers were treated to home-style French Tunisian cooking. He told me the soldiers continued to thank him for months afterward.

He shared with me a 2-step technique he uses for both potatoes and chicken. To get potatoes very tender on the inside and a bit crispy on the outside, cook the potatoes whole and unpeeled in water until just tender.

white potatoes

Drain the potatoes, dry and cut them into chunks. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and your choice of seasonings.

seasoned potatoes

Bake at medium heat until they crisp up.

roasting pre-cooked potatoesAlmost there.

I love roasted vegetables of all kinds. The roasting produces a concentration of flavors, often with a caramelized effect as the natural sugars come to the surface. The full flavors of roasted vegetables also come about because the heat of the oven causes the water content of the fruit or vegetable to evaporate. Victor’s  technique is interesting, because the  cooking keeps the potatoes well-hydrated (like we should be!) and results in a very moist interior.

He recommends doing the same thing with bone-in chicken. Cut the chicken into pieces and simmer in water until just tender. Drain chicken and reserve broth for cooking rice or another grain. Drizzle chicken well with olive oil, a favorite seasoning and bake (will post this when I try it, promise).

I have several new spices and spice blends to experiment with, thanks to my cousin and her grocer in Ramat Hasharon. One of the blends, Ras el Hanout , is aromatic with cinnamon and cumin, two loves of mine. Ras el Hanout is a spice mix that varies from shop to shop and refers to the shop owner creating a blend of his finest spices.

Moroccan spice mix

Am I doing a culltural cross-over by melding a Tunisian technique with a Moroccan spice blend? The cultural fusion makes this recipe that much more Israeli.

Tunisian Potatoes:


4 medium potatoes
1 T. olive oil
1/2 -1 t. seasoning mix – the blend I used had cumin, cinammon and garlic
salt & pepper
bb seasoning ideas:
Moroccan- cumin and cinnamon and allspice or turmeric, cumin and coriander
Indian- curry powder and Garam Masala, turmeric, ginger, crushed red pepper flakes and cumin
Tuscan- garlic, basil and thyme
Greek – oregano, garlic  and lemon pepper
Ashkenazi Trio – onion, garlic and paprika


Scrub potatoes and place them whole and unpeeled in a saucepan to fit. Add just enough water to almost cover. Add salt to water. Bring water to a boil. Cook at medium heat, partially covered until just barely tender, about 15 minutes.

Drain potatoes and pat dry. Drizzle olive oil over the still-warm potatoes and generously sprinkle with your choice of seasonings.

Bake in a 375° oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through. Best eaten immediately. That won’t be an issue.

bb note: If you like, try to doing the potatoes partially ahead of time. Cook the potatoes whole, pat dry and keep in the fridge up to three days ahead. Be sure to bring the potatoes up to room temperature before adding oil and seasonings.

Serves 4-6

Tunisian Potatoes mmm...

crispy potatoes


From → Veggies

  1. hsimpsongrossman permalink

    I love Ras El Hanut – use it in meatballs, chicken. The potatoes sound great – will let you know if the kids liked them once I’ve tried.

  2. Arlene Rosenblatt permalink

    Hi Judy

    I love receiving your recipes and news of your trip to Israel. We are in Bainbridge Island visiting our daughter and maybe I’ll try making those potatoes for dinner before we leave on Wednesday to return to LA.

  3. Sounds like you had a great trip and those potatoes look yummy! I would have never thought to use that method for chicken. Can’t wait to see your post on that.

  4. Ooh yum! I love crispy oven baked potatoes!!!

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