Thursday, November 8, 2012

Harissa spread from Tunisia- your new "go to"

 This past Sunday I found the most delicious little jar of goodness! The sweet red pepper provides a fresh, slightly acidic base, while the Harissa adds a nice warm heat to the mix.
Les Moulins Majhoub is based in Tebourda, Tunisia.  Steeped in rich agricultural traditions of the region,  their products are of the finest quality - certainly some of the best  I have tasted.  From their website,
“Tebourba is one of a few towns in Tunisia whose population has a quite special original character. It is composed almost entirely of descendants of the Moors driven out of Andalucia who settled on the site of the old Tuburbum Minus, on the left bank of the Medjerda.  The district of Tebourba is rich and fertile. It produces large amounts of cereals; there are abundant crops of olives, market gardening (truck farming) is highly developed and very varied.”     (E. Lecore-Carpentier - L'Indicateur Tunisien - Annuaire des administrations de la régence de Tunis - Guide du commerce, de l'industrie de l'agriculture et des touristes. 1905.)"
photo courtesy of Les Moulins Majhoub
 Harissa is a hot chili sauce, traditionally from Tunisia or Libya.  The main ingredients are piri priri (which is a type of chili pepper), serano and other hot chili peppers, herbs and spices including garlic, coriander, caraway, chili powder.  Olive oil is added to create the right consistency.  You can purchase harissa paste from most specialty foods stores, or online here.  It is very spicy and should be used sparingly at first, but once you understand its flavor, it becomes a brilliant addition to any middle eastern style dish. 

Last night we added a dollop of this sweet pepper and harissa spread to eggs fried over easy.  It was a brilliant combination.  The warm creaminess of the egg yolk combined with the sharp and slightly spicy pepper mixture was enough to make our tastebuds tingle.  I added the slightest drizzle of honey to my second bite. It was even more wonderful.  It enhanced the flavor of the sweet red pepper, deepening the contrast to that of the salted egg.

One of the first recipes I tried using Harissa is from the Canal House Cookbook.  I came across this while reading one of my favorite blogs, The Wednesday Chef.  The dish is everything and more.  I've even served this to a friend who claimed to dislike zuchinni,  only to see them convert!
The recipe and photograph below are both from her blog.

photo courtesy of The Wednesday Chef

Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives and Feta
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a light dinner with bread
Note: I've made a few small changes to the original recipe (using ground caraway, for example, as well as steaming the zucchini instead of boiling them, and using much less olive oil).

1/8 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons harissa paste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
4 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds
Handful Kalamata olives, pitted
1/4 to 1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta
Small handful parsley leaves, chopped
1. Put the ground caraway, lemon juice, harissa and olive oil in a serving bowl. Crush the garlic clove through a garlic press and add to the bowl. Whisk to combine.
2. Fit a vegetable steamer in a pot with an inch or two of water and bring to a boil. Steam the zucchini until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. They should not be falling apart. Add the zucchini to the serving bowl and gently toss with the harissa vinaigrette while still warm.
3. Dress the zucchini with the olives, feta, and parsley. Serve immediately.

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