Pumpkin Inspiration from Tunisian Jewish Cuisine

Ajluk al-Qara (pumpkin compote) (Jewish Tunisian) (1) Tunisian Jews traditionally ate the same way as the Muslim population, that is, they ate little plates as part of a meze table, or what was called an ādū, a Tunisian Arabic expression for meze, an assortment of olives, relishes, pickles and prepared food served on small plates as an entire meal or to nibble. One particular class of dishes were known as ajlūk, basically a compote made with a number of different vegetables such as zucchini, pumpkin, or carrot. The word ajlūk is found only in northern Tunisia among Jews according to cookbook author and North African culinary authority Paula Wolfert. When I asked a Tunisian chef from Djerba in southern Tunisia about it, he had never heard the word. The standard Arabic dictionaries do not have an entry for ajlūk either. Could the word be derived from the Arabic word jāl, an emigrant from Spain? Ajlūk dishes are like vegetable compotes, characterized by boiled vegetables. The name of this preparation indicated that qara’ (squash) refers to all members of the Cucurbita family. The dish is served with pieces of flatbread for scooping up the vegetables.
Ajlūk al-Qara’
Pumpkin Compote
Winter squash from the New World entered the Mediterranean from Spain, and from there they traveled to North Africa, Italy, and Turkey more or less simultaneously in the sixteenth century. In Tunisia, they became popular vegetables in everything from couscous to this ajlūk, a colloquial word from northern Tunisia meaning a kind of compote. Edmond Zeitoun, a Tunisian cookbook author says this recipe is typical of Tunisian Jews.
1 pound pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut up
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mortar until mushy
1/2 teaspoon harīsa
1 teaspoon freshly ground caraway seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds
12 imported black olives
4 small flatbread
1. Bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil and cook the pumpkin or squash flesh until soft, about 12 minutes. Pass through a food mill or food process until a purée and return to the saucepan. Heat for 1 or 2 minutes to evaporate a bit of the remaining liquid.
2. Beat the pumpkin purée with a fork then stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic, harīsa, caraway, and coriander. Beat again, check the seasoning and correct, and transfer to a small serving platter. Garnish the top with the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and black olives. Serve and eat with heated Arab flatbread.
Makes 4 servings

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