When I was a student in Paris in the late 1960s, the food that I ate in Jewish homes was French, with accents of Alsace Lorraine or Eastern Europe—but food from North Africa was becoming more prevalent, in couscous restaurants and in street food. Today, at least 60 percent of the almost 600,000 Jews in France (the third-largest Jewish community in the world) come from Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. North African fare is now dominant among French Jews. As one French cook told me, in every “intermarried” Jewish family—where a North African Jew marries a European Jew—North African food predominates at holidays.
In Paris’ bustling Belleville market, you see the intermingling of North African Jews and Arabs where harissa and hummus are sold—as well as imported products like p’kila, the spinach base of a delicious Libyan and Tunisian stew; bottarga, the so-called Mediterranean caviar made from mullet roe; and, of course, grainy brik leaves of thin, high-gluten dough. Brik is a Tunisian snack, with leaves of this dough filled with parsley, tuna, and egg, then quickly deep fried and served with a mechoui, or grilled salad.
Delicate brik filled with meat or almonds and sugar are called cigares in French and are served at life-cycle functions. Called bestels in Tunisia, they are shaped like egg rolls and can also be filled with Swiss chard or other vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and tuna. Authentic brik leaves may be hard to find in most supermarkets, but in a pinch, you can use wonton wrappers as a substitute.
I love to serve brik (recipe here) as a finger food, or with breakfast or lunch. Just be sure to keep some spicy harissa handy—or make your own—for dipping.
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