North African Archive

Monday, October 20, 2014

homemade harissa

homemade harissa

One of my secret food shames is that I don’t love spicy foods as much as would probably make me cool these days. I’ve got no Thai chile-eating bravado, no Sichuan peppercorn count to throw around, and I never even once in college went to one of those Buffalo wings places where they make you sign a waiver (such as the delightfully named, late Cluck U Chicken near Rutgers University) and lived to brag about it, the way others might boast about how much they bench press or how fast they run a mile (nope, nothing to swagger about there either). My ideal hot sauce can’t be found among my husband’s collection of Tapatio, Cholula and Sriracha, but in this Mild Sauce for Hot People, one of the few little orange bottles that I feel really understands my appreciation of heat in food, but not so much that it overwhelms everything. I accept that this makes me culinarily a wuss.

the chiles I used
boiling water to soften dried chiles

Yet I adore harissa, a Northwest African chile pepper paste with red peppers and spices and herbs such as garlic, coriander, caraway. Of course, when a condiment is used everywhere from Tunisia and Libya to Algeria and Morocco, you’re bound to find as many versions of it as there likely are people who make it, so there are recipes with cumin, lemon juice or even smoked chiles. There’s no one correct way to make it.

a very roasted red pepper

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Monday, May 17, 2010

carrot salad with harissa, feta and mint

carrot salad with harissa, feta and mint

There’s nothing better than a recipe that gives you a feeling of promise, especially when it involves something as mundane as carrots. Yes, carrots. I mean, just when I thought I’d done everything worth doing with carrots — shredding them into my favorite carrot salad, pickling them, roasting them for an avocado salad, grinding them into a ginger dressing, grating them into Indian vegetable pancakes — a reader (Hi, Sasa!) came along, emailed me her favorite carrot recipe and with one look, I knew exactly what my carrot routine was missing.

soaking the carrots
garlic

It turned out to be a lot of things (fortunately, none of them were striped socks), actually, but small things: paprika, caraway, cumin, harissa, mint, garlic, parley and also feta. The carrots are grated, the spices are heated with a pinch of sugar in olive oil, whisked with lemon juice and poured warm over the carrots, with minced mint and parsley — think North African pesto. You let the flavors muddle for a bit and then you add feta. And I know this is when I should say “You can eat it with lamb! At a picnic! With skewers off the grill and pitas!” But honestly, I just ate it with a fork. Because this salad is fascinating.

peeled carrotsshreddedharissa, cumin, corriander, paprikaspices to heat

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

shakshuka

shakshuka

There are a lot of reasons to make shakshuka, an Israeli Tunisian dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce: It sounds like the name of a comic book hero. Or some kind of fierce, long-forgotten martial art. Or perhaps something that said comic book hero would yell as they practiced this elaborate martial art, mid-leap with their fist in the air.

peppers, garlic, onion and tomatoes
garlic, chiles and onion

Or you could make it because when I talked about making eggs in tomato sauce a while back a large handful of comments were along the lines of “oh, this sounds like shakshuka” and “I think you would love shakshuka” and “you really should make shakshuka” and you may have shrugged and forgotten about it until you finally had it at a café one day and whoa it turns out you really would like shakshuka!

peppers and onions

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

moroccan-spiced spaghetti squash

spiced spaghetti squash

I keep promising you all some quick, easy recipes but sharing instead a mousse that requires at least five bowls and an electric mixer that must be washed down no less than three times, a quiche that has at least three different components, cauliflower that demands you cook each ingredient separately and a from-scratch doughnut recipe that entails reducing, rolling, freezing, frying and dipping. I have no doubt that you’re standing out there in front of your monitor, hands on hips, demanding answers. Except I don’t have any logic or rationale that will explain I choose to use my limited free minutes of time to make elaborate recipes and not, say, dinner, I only have this one peace offering today.

spaghetti squashscooping out seedsspaghetti squash innardsroasted

There’s a caveat, however. This is a ridiculously quick recipe if you have a microwave. We used to but don’t any longer so it still took over an hour, but it’s an hour that requires only a few minutes of hands-on time. Still, it is my favorite preparation of spaghetti squash, not only because it is delicious but because it approaches winter squash in my favorite way: by waking it up. I’ve never had a taste for squash recipes with cream or sugar or piles of cinnamon; I think the natural sweetness of squash is best contrasted with bolder ingredients, like garlic and tahini, jalapenos, olives and preserved lemons, chile-lime vinagrettes, hearty beans and ham or cayenne-dusted caramelized onions. I think you get the picture.

scraping the squash strands

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

squash and chickpea moroccan stew

Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew

Our first night in Paris in October, we had dinner at a great, inexpensive Moroccan restaurant in the 3ème called Chez Omar. The specialty is couscous, and the various stews you ladle over it. Alex had the chicken, I had the vegetables, but I hear we really missed out on the Royal, which is a big mess of meat. Served family style, the food was unpretentious, light and so healthy, I made a mental bookmark to try my hand at it when I got home.

chickpea squash stew mise

Which, being me, I promptly forgot about. What jogged my memory was a version of a Moroccan vegetable stew on Ask Aida on the Food Network last week. I think that Moroccan cooking can be intimidating: I don’t have a 1 3/4-Quart Le Crueset Cast Iron Moroccan Tagine in Caribbean Blue for the low price of $200, nor do I have one I picked up for $2.95 at the central souk in Marrakesh in 1968. (Okay, I wasn’t even alive in 1968 but for some reason, everyone but me seems to have a story about something fabulous they bought there when backpacking across the world and I am jealous.) I also don’t have a couscousier, yet astoundingly, I was able to pull off this squash and chickpea stew for dinner on Sunday, and it was delicious.

stew, simmering

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