In the big city, you can leave your house in sandals and a few minutes later walk into a museum or theater or cinema. From there, it’s just a few steps more to have a refreshing drink at a nearby café or drown one’s sorrows at the corner bar.
In our village, though, there is no theater or cinema, nor even a café worthy of the name. But there are green hills and vineyards that have just begun to bloom, and olive and almond tress offering shade along the road. The museum is free, surrounding a yard that contains nature’s works of art, which change with the seasons and the rains, the sunrises and sunsets and the pre-dawn frost.
On occasion, we load ourselves into the car and speed off to the big city. It welcomes us into its tumult and we go to a play or the ballet, and maybe enjoy a smoky whisky in a dark pub. Then we come home to the village and find the children sleeping peacefully, the window of their room wide open.
Our city jaunts are rather infrequent, and our urban friends don’t often come out to the country to be surrounded by golden fields and the lengthening shade of the eucalyptus trees as the day wanes. But during the holidays, or on a weekend, when work pressures fade, it’s easy to pack a basket with fruit and vegetables and wine, put some containers of food in a cooler, and head for the hillsides. There’s time to go for a little hike first, or just park the car and find a lovely spot to sprawl among the late-blooming wildflowers, dip into some refreshments and sip some cold wine.
The city couldn’t exist without the country, and the country wouldn’t hold the same therapeutic power without the big city and all its temptations. So, my city friends, pack up your picnic gear and come out to the countryside. Afterward, you will return to your honking buses and neon lights with a calm smile on your faces.
Tunisian tuna salad
This cooked salad requires a little effort, but it is quite delicious and can be a meal in itself. It’s a variation on a fricassee, served with or without olives on the side and a thick, spicy sauce.
12 sprigs cilantro
2-3 sweet red peppers
1 hot green pepper (optional)
2 peeled garlic cloves
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 heaping tsp sweet paprika
1/2 heaping tsp hot
Morrocan paprika in oil
1/2 scant tsp turmeric
1 tbsp pickled lemons
2 small potatoes
2 cans tuna (in oil)
Place the cilantro in the bottom of a small pot. Slice the red peppers, the green pepper and the garlic and spread over the cilantro in a single layer. Pour the olive oil on top, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes until the peppers “sweat” and soften. Be careful not to fry the peppers but just to steam them in the oil. When the peppers have softened and added their liquid to the pot, add the spices, pickled lemon and a little salt and gently shake the pot so that everything is coated with the oil. Peel the potatoes and slice them 1-cm thick. Arrange them in the sauce and continue simmering for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes soften and the sauce is bright red.
In a separate pot, place the eggs in water, bring to a boil, then lower the flame and cook for five more minutes. Transfer the eggs to cold water to cool them, then peel them carefully as the yolks will still be somewhat liquid.
Drain off the excess liquid from the canned tuna and scatter the tuna over the sauce and potatoes. Shake the pot so as to cover the tuna with sauce. Slice the eggs in quarters and carefully lay them on top. Serve warm with a nice thick slab of challah.
Tuna and za’atar salad
leaves from 15 sprigs of hysop or oregano
10 sprigs of parsley
1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1 tsp dried hyssop (za’atar)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cans tuna (in oil)
Place the hyssop leaves and parsley sprigs in a food processor with a steel blade and process until finely minced. Add the sesame, dried hyssop and olive oil and combine with a few brief pulses of the food processor until a thick paste is obtained. If needed, add a little more oil.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Drain the tuna and add it to the mixture. Taste and adjust for seasoning, and serve with a chopped tomato salad.
American tuna salad
There are countless versions of this familiar classic, but the simplest one is always better for a sandwich on rye bread than the more sophisticated recipes. For those who still want some enhancement, try adding capers, chopped lemon with the peel, a touch of horseradish root or green onion. I generally add sliced tomato and a little freshly ground black pepper.
1 red onion
1 young celery stalk,
without the leaves
2 small pickles
2 cans tuna (in oil)
4 heaping tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp mustard
coarsely ground black pepper
Chop the onion, celery and pickles very fine and put in a bowl. Place the eggs in water to cover, bring to a boil and cook for seven minutes. Peel and chop eggs and add to the bowl. Drain the tuna and add along with the mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for half an hour before serving.