Breakfast in Tunisia

The great undiscovered culinary Shangri-La of the Mediterranean in my mind is Algeria and Tunisia. Algeria has been off limits for some 25 years because of the civil war which erupted in the early 1990s, and Tunisia was the initiator of the Arab Spring some years ago and has always been more popular with Europeans than Americans. I traveled a bit in Tunisia in the 1990s and one of my favorite dishes was the Tunisian breakfast preparation called lablābī. It is a breakfast stew made with chickpeas, broth, tomatoes, and various toppings such as capers, cumin, harīsa, and coddled eggs.  The word lablābī is interesting.  It is an archaic Arabic word that refers to the hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab L.), a bean native to India that is also known as the Egyptian or black bean. The word lablābī may not be originally Arabic; it possibly derives from the Turkish word for “roasted chickpea.” Lablābī is unknown among the Arabs of the eastern Arab world. Lablābī is a favorite winter morning breakfast for stevedores in Tunis.  Throughout the city it is a morning offering in the small hole-in-the-wall cook shops. The actual soup is very simple and it’s depth of flavor derives from the garnishes you decide to use.  As a tourist you will come home wanting lablābī in the morning; that’s how seductive it is.

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See above for the link to making your own harīsa.
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Tunisian
Serves: 4
  • 4 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tablespoons harīsa (see link above)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Optional garnishes, to taste:
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Coddled eggs
  • Seeded and finely chopped green bell pepper
  • Chopped very ripe tomatoes
  • Dollops of harīsa
  • Capers, rinsed
  • Pickled turnips
  • Croûtons
  • Finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Finely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves
  • Leftover bread, any kind, ripped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Place the chickpeas in a saucepan and cover with water. Boil until soft, about 30 minutes, then stir in the harīsa, garlic, cumin, and salt. Stir well, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Serve with more lemon juice, salt, and ground cumin to taste. Serve with any combination and any amount of optional garnishes, including more harīsa and olive oil.



  1. Brenda Hart says

    While in Tunisia I scandalised my coach party by buying this in a bagette from a street seller. I was warned that I would probably die but I survived and my gin and tonic fellow passengers were sick because they had ice cubes in their drinks.
    I always rckon that is the locals survive then so will I. It was delicious by the way.

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