Tunisian Artichoke Tomato Sauce with Olives and Capers

by Sarah on October 8, 2012 · 13 comments

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a food hoarder.

I have food items that have traveled with me all the way from Texas, back home to Pennsylvania, into my temporary lease in Charlottesville, and now shoved into the overflowing nooks of my current pantry.

that would be 9/28...2011.

When Heather announced that I is for Israeli Couscous in her Meatless Monday A-Z challenge…I was eager to use up the M’hamsa Couscous I had received while working at Central Market in Texas, where I was able to meet the owner of Les Moulins Mahjoub and taste a number of his products.

I am breaking ‘the rules’ a bit, because this hand-rolled couscous comes from Tunisia, and, while similar in size to pearl–or Israeli–couscous, technically I can’t say with certainty that it is really the same. But I’m using it anyway.*

*Because it’s my blog. And I do what I want.

It doesn’t matter in the end, since the couscous itself is actually second fiddle klezmer to the sauce that this post is really about.

In Tunisia, couscous is tradtionally served as a light, fresh salad, dressed with citrus and oil, and tossed with herbs and raw vegetables–much like a tabbouleh. However, when I tried  M’hamsa Couscous originally, I also learned that it was common to use it like pasta, accompanied by rich sauces.

i don't know what is in sauce #2. or even if one (two?) exists at all.

Since we are heading into cooler temperatures, when warmer, heartier flavors are welcomed, I went the second route, taking three of those sold by Les Moulins Mahoub, meshed them all together, and created my own!After a previous foray into the world of Tunisian cooking (inspired by the gods and goddesses of vegetarian cooking who own and operated the Moosewood Restaurant), I knew that my sauce must feature the alliteratively alluring Tunisian triumvirate of spices: coriander, sumin, and caraway.It would also be sacri-Tunisian not to include harissa, a spiced chile paste* used throughout the region that I’ve been told contributes to making the best hummus you’ll ever taste.Lucky for me, I also happen to bring THIS from Texas. [You may mock my hoarding tendencies, but just look how one day I really DO need these things…]From there, it was a matter of assembling my chosen ingredients, which, naturally, was not just a few of the items in the original sauces…but all of them.

Artichoke hearts, loosely sliced and diced……plus both black and green olives, left over from another MMAZ challenge.

yes, there are caperberries in there, too. you are not hallucinating.

And even though caperberrieslook REALLY weird when you cut them open, I thought that was a better option than going out to buy a jar of capers. [Although you can certainly do that, as the flavor will be similar.]

i feel like these would come in handy around halloween. eyeballs? brains?

From there it is just a matter of dicing up an onion and some garlic, and getting that steaming on the stove.Once it starts to soften up, throw in (not literally…unless you want to) your spices and get everything smelling irresistible.Add in the artichokes, olives, and capers (or chopped caperberries), and start stirring and cooking the flavor into ’em.Eventually, everything will break down and you’ll be dealing with a rather deliciously ugly mess. Also a very salty one. In the name of sodium PLEASE do not add any more salt. I beg of you.Harissa is vital and necessary. Unless you can’t find it. Then, I would say add your favorite red chile paste or powder and maybe a snippet of olive oil.Once everything is cooking away, flavorful and fragrant…*

*I’m talking about 10 minutes people. From the moment those onions hit the pan.…stir in a can of crushed tomatoes and let everything come to a bubble o’ trouble.*

*bubble o’ trouble [noun]: the type of simmer, most often occurring with tomato-based soups and sauces or squash purees, where bubbles tend to leap out of the pan onto the stove. or into your face.I let it enjoy an overnight ‘stews and sauces always taste even more amazing the next day’ slumber party with itself, but it really was phenomenal straight from the pot, via wooden spoon. [Trust me. I know.]I like chunky sauces, and if I were going to use this for spaghetti, I probably would have left it as it was. However, in case you forgot–because I almost did–the theme this week is not Tunisian tomato sauce, but Israeli–or otherwise–couscous.

So the immersion blender came out to play.

And because I have a strange phobia of not having something green on my plate, so did a pile of spinach.Remembering that I should probably give the supposed star of the show a little limelight,* I put the sauce down first.

*Although Tunisian cooking favors the preserved lemon.Spicy, smoky, supremely salty, with just a hint of ‘hmmm ‘coming from the infusion of ‘most commonly found in rye bread’ caraway. The heat builds slowly from the harissa and the richness of the artichoke-infused tomato sauce makes it a stand out on its own. [I’m pretty sure I will eat the leftovers as stew.]

I guess I have to apologize to those balls of grain for taking away their glory.

Because if the suit makes the man, well, the sauce makes the couscous.

Tunisian Tomato + Artichoke Sauce with Olives + Capers

[Serves 4]

  • 1/2 cup diced sweet onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 14 oz. can quartered artichoke hearts in brine, drained with brine reserved
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped olives [black and/or green]
  • 2 Tbsp. capers, or chopped caperberries
  • 1 1/2 tsp. harissa
  • 1 15 oz.-can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/3 cups (dry) couscous, cooked by soaking for 5 minutes in boiling water [for serving]
  1. In a large sauce pan, cook onion and garlic in water until beginning to soften.
  2. Add spices, and continue to cook until onions are translucent and fragrant.
  3. Stir in artichoke hearts, olives, and capers.
  4. Add harissa, stirring well.
  5. Cook 3 minutes or so, until ingredients begin to break down.
  6. Add in tomatoes, and bring mixture to a simmer.
  7. Cook another 3-5 minutes.
  8. Using an immersion blender, puree sauce just enough so that it still has texture, but ingredients are well processed.
  9. Serve with couscous.

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Brittany @ GOtheXtraMile October 8, 2012 at 8:38 am

I’m a good hoarder, too. Mostly with nut butter jars, but it’s fine.. this looks so delicious! I love artichokes. I e-mailed you by the way, hope you got it! 😀

Sarah October 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I got it! Your Caramel Apple Nutty Butter is in the mail. :)

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table October 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

I think it counts because if you’d told me that Tunisia was in Israel I would have believed you. LOL!

Love that you put coriander in there. So under-used! I might add a pinch of cinnamon too… it’s a sickness.

Sarah October 9, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Not a sickness. I meant to add cinnamon. It was literally sitting next to the stove and I was like, “YES! I’m totally going to add a pinch at the end for a little extra surprise!”

And then I forgot.

Liz October 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm

This looks so so good!! Can I skip the olives though?? I can’t make myself love the, despite ,y efforts.

I hope your week is off to a great start!!

Sarah October 9, 2012 at 10:35 pm

By all means, skip the olives. The artichokes and spices are what really make it, anyway. [Plus, you can save yourself a bit of a salt bomb…however, with all your running you are probably craving salt right now!]

Kristina October 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm

second klezmer. THIS is why I love you.

you always break the rules, but in the BEST of ways – I think this will qualify :) I can almost taste it now, these flavors sound amazing, and I love the olives and caperberries too!

Allie October 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Everything about that sauce sounds amazing (and YES to hoarding–it pays off when you want to make something NOW and have no interest in running off to three different grocery stores just to track down ingredients!) (And Moosewood Restaurant makes the best cookbooks, I get super-excited when I find them at my used bookstore.)

Brittany @ Delights and Delectables October 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm

This sauce looks amazing!! I will have to make that since I can’t have any of the canned stuff right now! Plus, I love anything with artichokes!!!

Fran@ Broken Cookies Don't Count October 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm

This looks really good!

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