Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Harissa Soup, Take 1

The pot currently simmering on my stove is an experiment. I am making harissa soup, based on a recipe I've pretty much made up myself. Based on recipes for harissa and my own cooking sense. Once I've perfected it, I'll post it. So far, I made vegetable broth, letting that simmer on low while the vegetables - the harissa part of the soup - roasted in the oven in olive oil and spices. Now, the roasted vegetables have been added to the stock, along with the water used to deglaze the cast iron pan in which the vegetables were roasted. I plan to add more caraway, coriander, and cumin if the spicing isn't strong enough. The finished soup will have cooked yellow lentils and chickpeas in it. It is vegan, but can be served with yogurt and/or feta cheese. My other ideas for garnish are cilantro leaves and oil-cured black olives.

Harissa is a hot sauce that comes from Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Because these places were once French colonies, North African cuisine has become popular in France, with some elements and ingredients becoming incorporated into French cuisine itself. Not only am I part French, but also, my grandmother lived in Morocco for part of her childhood. It's due to her influence, I'm sure, that I love this type of food. Couscous, chickpeas, pomegranates, harissa, and recently, preserved lemons. I go through phases, but this cuisine and its star ingredients are what I always fall back on. (This, as well as other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern things, like za'atar.)

Harissa is hands-down my favorite hot sauce. It is very, very hot. It would be too hot for me, but the flavor is so interesting and appealing to me that I brave the heat, with yogurt or milk standing by. I think I'm finally developing a tolerance for it. I think what sets harissa apart from other hot sauces is the inclusion of caraway. It's not what you normally associate with hot sauce. My favorite brand of harissa (which I recognize by the pictures on the can, not the name, as I can't read Arabic) also lists as the first ingredients beets and carrots. I've never seen this in another harissa recipe, but I don't care. To me, beets and carrots belong in harissa. They complement the caraway.

I don't just use harissa in Moroccan recipes. I add harissa to nearly every pot of chili I make, even chili verde. A roommate and I once made chocolate cupcakes with harissa. Before I dropped Organic Chemistry for the second time, my stress-relief snack (after evening lecture) was fried okra with harissa. Someday, I will make harissa ice cream. I think "harissa" is a pretty word. Perhaps that is what I will name my firstborn.

Well, this was longer than I intended. I meant to just write an unedited post to tell you, my readers, that I am inventing a harissa soup recipe.


ellen said...

i've never had harissa before, but your description of it sounds so good that i'll be lusting after it for the next year and a half. this is going on my list of shit to buy when i'm back in the states. look forward to seeing the soup and continue living through your culinary adventures!

Sarah said...

Hey Ellen! I was just reading your blog today! Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me if you ended up finding harissa in Macedonia someday. I could be way off; I am basing this on things I've found in cookbooks from that Eastern Europe-but-near-the-Middle-East-with-substantial-Islamic-population area. What the heck time is it in Macedonia!? It is almost midnight here.