Harissa in the House

Tonight’s menu will include lemon harissa chicken. I made a batch of harissa paste a few days ago, something I’ve been intending for at least several weeks and more probably several months. Making harissa paste is not hard, but it takes a bit of time and patience, and I tend to get little dabs of the dark red-orange stuff on my clothes during the process. It involves using a number of dried peppers. Most recipes call for at least one dried pepper or another that I can’t find, so I substitute. For that reason, every batch of harissa I’ve made has a slightly different flavor from every other batch. That doesn’t bother me, though, because every batch I’ve made so far has been extremely pleasing to my palate.

Because of my propensity for dyeing the garments I’m wearing while making it, I prefer to wear my most embarrassingly worn, stained, and tattered clothes during the process. And I did.  Frankly, the taste of harissa warrants wearing a white tuxedo during the process of making it, if necessary. It’s that flavorful. And it has infinite uses. Tonight’s use, as I mentioned, will involve just two tablespoons of the stuff, along with a few other herbs and spices and, of course, chicken. I’ll marinate chunks of chicken breast for a few  hours in the harissa concoction and then will cook them in a sauce pan on the stove top. I’ll also make some white rice. If the oven cooperates, I’ll roast some veggies which I’ll place atop the white rice and, finally, the spicy chunks of chicken. Well, not finally. I’ll dress the chicken with a few globs of yogurt and garnish the dish with parsley, sliced olives, and capers. That should make a nice dinner.

Though I did not make a particularly large batch of harissa, using only two tablespoons tonight will leave plenty for other dishes. For one, I want to try to replicate a harissa salsa that we used to get from Trader Joe’s (thanks to my niece) but is no longer available. Based on the ingredients list on the jar of the salsa, though, I think the likelihood of an exact match is slim. I also want to make a few other North African dishes in which harissa is a key ingredient.

If the world were just, and we know it is not, I would have a gas stove on which to cook. And I would have a North African tajine in which to cook North African cuisine. I’ve never used a tajine, but I understand its conical shaped top allows the steam that arises during cooking to recirculate and moisten the food being cooked, intensifying the flavors.

I’ve read that another dish, one I’ve made many times before but without using harissa, is especially good when amped up with harissa. Shakshouka (spelled any number of ways) is an Israeli dish that I understand originated in North Africa. It is, essentially, a conglomeration of tomatoes and spices in which eggs are poached. At least that’s how I describe it. I can imagine how incredibly flavorful a breakfast of shakshouka could be if the tomato-based sauce in which the eggs are poached had an ample dose of harissa in it.

There are more recipes and more uses for harissa, of course. Many more. I suppose I’m in one of my cycles of craving North African food. That happens sometime. Perhaps it occurs when I awaken, get up, and get dressed in the wee hours of the night, as I did last night, thinking the night was done. I’ll have to search my journal-like entries in this blog to find out whether there’s any truth in that.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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