Riz Djerbien (Tunisian Spinach Rice)

This recipe by Aube Giroux of Kitchen Vignettes is one of the most stunning in our culinary arsenals and it comes from the magnificent Tunisian island of Djerba. Vibrant herbal greens add brightness alongside tomatoes and hot peppers, lightening the starches of basmati rice, potatoes, and chickpeas. Aromatic coriander and caraway seeds offer a subtle hint of citrus while paprika and turmeric provide a balancing earthiness and outstanding colour.

The preparation for this dish is remarkably simply: the ingredients are chopped, combined in a large bowl, then steamed, making this the ideal recipe to prepare over the holidays when we don't have the time or cookware to accommodate complex recipes! We also learned we could save the remaining liquid from the steaming—which gets infused with the phenomenal flavors of the riz djerbien—as a vegetable stock an it has transformed our other holiday dishes!


Written by Aube Giroux of Kitchen Vignettes

I will never forget the first time I ate this dish.

I was visiting my dear friend Synda in Tunisia, and her downstairs neighbour who is from the island of Djerba had offered to make us a big bowl of this rice, prepared in the authentic Djerbian way. We had barely eaten anything that day in anticipation of this meal, so by the time Khalti Baya called us downstairs, we were two very, very hungry girls. We sat in her tiny dark living room and she ceremoniously emerged from her kitchen with the largest bowl I'd ever seen, filled with a deep red rice flecked with dark green. The steamy fragrance emanating from the magical rice was out of this world. We each grabbed a spoon and dove in, eating straight out of the same bowl in traditional Tunisian style. Well. Our mouths began to burn, our cheeks turned bright red, and we broke into a sweat. But we couldn't slow our voracious feasting down because it was one of the most delicious things we had ever tasted in our lives. So we just kept eating and eating, moaning and panting through the pain and laughing with pleasure, sweat pouring down our faces, mouths on fire. My whole head felt like the lid on a boiling kettle of water, whistling and ready to pop right off. The memory is seared into my brain forever as an oddly wonderful blend of agony and delight. I guess that's why people like spicy food so much, it gives you such a strange pleasure high.

It's a challenge to exactly recreate the magic of Khalti Baya's "Rouz Djerbi" or "Riz Djerbien" as it's called in Tunisia, but Synda's version is equally delicious, though a bit less spicy, especially when she makes it for a western audience :-) But you can adapt this recipe to the level of heat you like, adding more hot peppers or cayenne if you wish. And of course, if you can get your hands on some real Tunisian harissa, throw in a couple tablespoonfuls as well!

a brown-haired woman chops spinach on a wooden cutting board