Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A North African feast.

On Sunday, we enjoyed two new dishes with North African flare.  Just because.  The meal was inspired by an intriguing carrot and feta salad from Smitten Kitchen, using an ingredient that I have been itching to try: harissa.  The main dish was a chickpea and chard stew with Moroccan flavors.  Both were tasty and complemented one another perfectly.

 I especially recommend trying the carrot salad; it was such a unique combination of flavors - piquant, sweet, tart, salty.  I had to go on a mini hunt for harissa, which is a spicy chile paste condiment hailing from Tunisia.   On a tip from the original recipe post, I checked Whole Foods first.  No luck.  There was one sad little jar of "Harissa-Sun Dried Tomato Spread" - that seemed a little frou-frou for my salad, and I wasn't willing to shell out almost $7 for some high-falutin' chile paste.  Ultimately, I found success at Corti Brothers (I love you, CB - you always come through in my time of need!), settling on a $3 tube imported from France, packaged in a bright yellow box etched with Arabic characters.  It reminded me that Tunisia and France share an intertwined history and culture; Tunisia, along the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa, was a French protectorate from 1818 through 1956, when it gained independence.  In my search for harissa, I also found that a number of recipes and prepared products included a surprise ingredient: caraway.  The carrot salad echoes that flavor by including ground caraway seeds in a spice vinaigrette.  The spices and garlic are quickly sauteed in olive oil to release their fragrant flavors.  Paired with mint and feta, this salad is truly unique.


The chickpea and chard recipe came from my new Deborah Madison cookbook, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone."  It was a gift from my wonderful dogs for Mother's Day (thank you for facilitating, husband!).  This was my first time cooking from the new book, and it was a pleasant experience.

 While not totally unique, the recipe is clear and reliable.  I've had similar versions of this stew with Spanish flavors.  It is filling and tasty, and especially delicious the next day for lunch.  I made some simple modifications from the recipe, such as using tomato puree in place of fresh tomatoes (it's not quite tomato season, and I also have an aversion to chopped tomatoes in stews - I know, weird).

Enjoy this North African-inspired feast!

Carrot & Feta Salad with Harissa-Spice Vinaigrette
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Note: Make sure you taste your harissa before you add to get a feel for how spicy it is and adjust the amount you add based on that.

1 lb carrots, scrubbed, peeled, and coarsely shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds, ground (I used my coffee grinder)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste (I used about 3/4 tsp harissa paste from France)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
1/2 cup feta, crumbled

Heat the oil over medium heat in a small pan.  Add the garlic, spices, harissa, and sugar and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.  Turn down the heat if it simmers too aggressively; stir almost constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and salt to taste.  Add vinaigrette to the carrots and toss well.  Mix in the parsley and mint.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for one hour.  Add the feta immediately prior to serving.

Chickpea and Chard Stew with Moroccan Flavors
Adapted from Deborah Madison, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone"

1 large bunch of chard, washed, center stem removed, sliced into 1-inch ribbons
2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 garlic cloves, trimmed and peeled
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (alternatively, 2 teaspoons of either paprika)
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, separated
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 white onion, chopped (I used one spring onion from my box)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
dash of red pepper flakes
1 cup veggie broth
1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree (I used half a 28-oz. can)

Steam the chard, using a steamer basket in a large pot over about one inch of water, partially covered, for about 3 minutes.  Use tongs to move the chard around so it cooks evenly.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Mince the garlic with a generous pinch or two of salt, smashing with your knife to form a somewhat chunky paste.  In a small bowl, mix the garlic-salt paste with the dried spices (paprika through turmeric), 2 tablespoons cilantro, the parsley, and 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, thyme, and red pepper flakes, and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the garlic-spice mixture, then add the chickpeas and 1/2 cup of the veggie broth.  Simmer for 4 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, cooked chard, the remaining 1/2 cup veggie broth, and salt to taste.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro and serve over rice or couscous.

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