Occasionally, I’m reminded of our narrow taste palette. Making and cooking with harissa, a hot pepper paste from North Africa and the Mediterranean, was one of those times. Even before adding the lemon juice, olive oil and garlic, it smelled like nothing I could identify, except the overtones of anise. I needed only a wee bit for roasted carrots — the rest I’m saving for the roast chicken with avocado and grapefruit from Monica Pope and Sparrow Bar + Cookshop in Houston (in the May issue of Women’s Health magazine).
Our Easter dinner was a celebration of fruits and vegetables, with Dora the Explorer’s fabulous bean-corn and avocado salsa on the appetizer bar, apples and raisins baked in the slow cooker along with the ham, a broccoli-bacon salad, candied violets on the lemon cheesecake (they really do taste just like violets smell), an asparagus melange decked out in a tarragon vinaigrette and these carrots.
I found the carrot recipe on myflourishingfoodie.com and played it fast and loose, i.e., not worrying too much about amounts as long as proportions stayed about the same. It was a hit; in fact, our 18-year-old nephew said it made him think he might like Middle Eastern food.
Minimize your costs when making harissa by seeking out a spice shop where you can buy tiny amounts of these expensive seeds, not $6 jars of each.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4-1/2 teaspoons (1-1/2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine 5 types of seeds in skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking seeds like an omelet, until fragrant. Grind in spice grinder or clean coffee grinder. Combine with remaining ingredients in lidded glass jar.
For our celebratory carrots, I had only 1 pound carrots, but Dora upped the yogurt and drizzles so the dish filled a platter. Zaatar is the ubiquitous Middle Eastern condiment made of dried herbs (usually oregano, thymes and savory) mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac and salt. (Try brushing it on toasted pitas with olive oil.) It should also be available in any spice shop worth its sea salt.
Harissa roasted carrots
1 pound carrots
1 teaspoon harissa
2 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon zaatar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 to 2 tablespoons cold water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fresh mint leaves, chopped
Heat oven to 425°. Cut away carrot tops and scrub carrots clean (only peel if peels are aging unattractively). Slice carrots in half lengthwise and then into quarters; place onto baking sheet. In small bowl mix harissa and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread onto carrots and rub with your hands to coat. Bake for 25 minutes or until tender (ours took more like an hour), tossing every 15 minutes or so.
Thin yogurt with 1 to 2 tablespoons cold water, and spread over serving plate. Place baked carrots on top of yogurt. Season with zaatar and salt. Drizzle with lemon juice, olive oil and top with mint. Serve warm or cold. This amount went all the way around our table of 13, but some people got only one-quarter of a carrot.