Hrus is the name of a spice mix in Gabes, the coastal oasis town that once was the terminus for the medieval trans-Saharan trade and that had a large Jewish community. The spice mix is made from preserved onions, dried red chiles, rose petals, and cinnamon. It also appears as a salad of sweet and hot peppers, tuna, olives, capers, garlic, and caraway seeds. But in this recipe hrus, the puree of hot and sweet peppers, is simmered with eggs in this class of dishes familiar in Tunisia, often served as a lunch dish, called 'ujja (eggs). It is typical in summer. Other important classes of egg dishes in Tunisia are tajin, a kind of frittata, while ma'aquda is a dish of beaten eggs that set in the oven, derived from the Arabic word meaning "to congeal," to set like a pudding. Both these Tunisian egg dishes are identical in purpose and form to the Spanish tortilla, remembering that a Spanish tortilla is a frittata, and not related to the Mexican tortilla, which is a flatbread. The prevalent use of New World peppers, both sweet and hot, and the well- developed egg cookery in Tunisia points to heavy Spanish influence, the first because those plants were introduced by the Spaniards and the second because of the similarity of egg preparations and methods of cooking in Spain and Tunisia.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Preparation Time: 40 minutes
1. Pound all the fresh peppers together in a mortar with a pestle and set aside, or puree in a food processor or blender until green and soupy, about 30 seconds. Dissolve the tomato paste in 1 cup of the water and set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat, then add the purée of peppers, the tomato water, paprika, harisa, and caraway seeds and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the remaining 2 cups water and when it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low while it cooks and reduces in consistency, about 10 minutes. Then increase the heat to medium for another 10 minutes.
3. Crack the eggs into the pan without breaking the yolks and cook in the sauce over medium heat until they set, about 15 minutes over a medium heat. Season with salt and serve.