Harissa Roasted Root Vegetables with Fried Capers

by Maja Lukic

For years, I associated root vegetables with soups, stocks, stews--things that are simmered and boiled on the stove top for hours until the roots impart both a strong, savory scent and an indelible, complex flavor. Root vegetables are certainly delicious this way--my mom always uses parsnips in her homemade bone broths. But a roasted root is a different creature entirely. In my opinion, roasted, caramelized root vegetables are the ultimate in winter fare--incredibly frugal and satisfying but healthy as well. 

Instead of a standard roast with olive oil/sea salt, (which is a perfectly acceptable and delicious way to go about handling roots), this recipe energizes that basic formula with a sweet and tangy harissa glaze.

I've been a fan of Mina harissa for some time. Harissa, as you probably know, is a Moroccan roasted-red pepper condiment that has become widely available in recent years, owing in large part, I think, to the Ottolenghi mania. The Mina harissa has a beautiful and unique flavor profile. It's tangier than some of the other harissas on the market. (I own about nine different kinds of vinegar at home so I was an instant fan for that reason alone). The texture is also more homogenous (blended?) and looser than, for example, the dense harissa pastes you might purchase in tubes, which tend to be thick and concentrated like tomato paste. (As a bonus, the thinner, saucy texture allows for painterly designs in dishes like soup, for example. What? I play with my food.). When Mina approached me to create a few recipes with their harissa, I was excited to experiment. This is the first of, hopefully, two or three examples of delicious harissa applications. 

For use in recipes, my personal preference is for the mildest version--I have virtually no tolerance for heat and like being able to control the spice--but if you need an extra kick of some sort, try Mina's spicy red or green harissa. I have sampled both and they're fantastic. 

The recipe is pretty straightforward. The root vegetables get a start in the oven while I prepare the glaze and then I continue to roast them until the vegetables are sweet and caramelized. I like to bring the whole thing to a close by highlighting the acerbic side of this harissa. A burst of fresh lemon juice and some fried capers tone down the sweetness of the caramelized, dense roots. At the same time, I understand that capers are not to everyone's taste. If you're not a fan, leave them off. But you should know that fried capers are simply the best--the little wrinkled, crackled flavor explosions add both a briny element to the plate and some interesting crispy texture. That's my argument, but I leave the ultimate decision to you. And if you suspect that a runny egg yolk would work well here, too, you're absolutely correct. More often than not, I like to top this with a poached or soft-boiled egg. 

If I'm not back here before the holidays, I wish you all a warm and safe holiday season and happy 2015! 

Harissa-Roasted Root Vegetables with Fried Capers (v/GF)

Serves 3-4

8 cups of chopped root vegetables (any combination of carrots, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, and sweet potatoes)

3 tbsp avocado oil, divided (or other cooking oil)

1/4 cup Mina mild harissa (see note)

2 tsp maple syrup

juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp capers

fresh lemon juice, parsley, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. 

First, prep the vegetables: peel the parsnips and turnips, and scrub the carrots and sweet potatoes (but only if organic; otherwise, peel). Cut the vegetables on the diagonal into 3/4" slices. The vegetables should be roughly around the same size for even roasting.

Toss the vegetables with 2 tablespoons of avocado oil, some sea salt, and pepper. Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet and place into the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until just soft and cooked through.

While the vegetables are roasting, whisk together the harissa, maple syrup, and lime juice. Toss the vegetables with the harissa mixture, making sure the vegetables are coated evenly. Slide back into the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes or until brown and caramelized. Transfer to a serving dish. 

Drain, rinse, and dry the capers. Heat a tablespoon of avocado oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the capers to the pan and fry for about 30 seconds or until brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel to drain excess oil. 

Top the roasted vegetables with the fried capers, chopped parsley, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately. 

Notes: For a spicier dish, use the spicy variety of harissa or add some cayenne or crushed pepper flakes to the vegetables prior to roasting. 

Disclosure: From time to time, I may recommend products on my blog. All opinions expressed are my own. I will not promote a product I do not like and/or use in my household.

Sea Salt & Olive Oil Tahini

by Maja Lukic

At this point, I've basically given up any semblance of regular updates. My visits here are infrequent but, I hope, still worthwhile somehow? It's a freeing thing, letting go of obligations. I mean, nothing makes me happier than canceling an event or saying no. But lest you think that all I do now is sit around drinking tea, eating grapes, and reading Knausgaard (though on many nights, that is quite literally all I do), let me inform you that I've been up to some things. 

For example, my talented friend Scott just launched a magazine--it's called Boxy Mag and it's fantastic. You should absolutely bookmark it and then do the requisite social media liking/following. The content changes regularly (unlike my blog) and it's always varied and interesting, informative and occasionally irreverent. The inaugural October issue was dedicated to food, but future issues may delve into fashion, art, life in the city, etc. I had a breakfast recipe feature recently, which you can check out here

In any event, I'm still writing my way through several projects, running off to workshops, loitering at coffee shops and bookstores as if I'm actually working on something epic, and generally cavorting in the last few breaths of warm air. So this will be a quick update. 

This homemade tahini is essential to me. If you're accustomed to the store-bought version, this is a slightly different beast. The flavor is different. This version is saltier, but also, store-bought tahini sometimes leaves a lingering bitter aftertaste--not so with its homemade counterpart, which has a well-rounded, creamy feel. The formula is dead simple and the process of making it is even kind of meditative--toasting the pale raw seeds, processing the cooled seeds into a rough marzipan-textured paste, and then drizzling in fragrant olive oil until the seeds are spun into silky, smooth tahini. Okay, it's about as meditative as any food processor project, but I do kind of like the metamorphic aspect of recipes like this. Also, I'm easily entertained. 

And now that you're all set with a jar of homemade tahini, may I direct you to a few excellent uses for it? A salad or hummus are respectable starting points. But if you're into bolder experimentation, try one of these delicious recipes:

Roasted squash with lemon tahini sauce

Goji ginger tahini cream

Raw tahini cups with coffee cream filling 

Because Ottolenghi.

Sea Salt & Olive Oil Tahini (v/gf)

Makes approx. 1 cup

2 cups organic raw sesame seeds

1/2 tsp sea salt

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (see note)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Spread the sesame seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven on the middle rack. Roast for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant and lightly golden brown. Be careful--they burn easily.

Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. 

Transfer the sesame seeds to a food processor and pulse a few times. Process for a few minutes until the seeds begin to come together in a rough, dry paste. Add the sea salt. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil and process until the mixture is creamy and smooth.

Store in the fridge for up to 1 month. 

Note: For sweet/neutral applications, reduce the sea salt to a pinch and use a neutral oil like avocado or grapeseed. 

Vegan Zucchini Pancakes with Hazelnut Romesco

by Maja Lukic

I've been sitting on this recipe since August probably. Can you even buy zucchini anymore? In my defense, it is still reasonably warm outside and the palette of yellows, greens, and rust here seems apropos for these burnished autumn days. 

In the event that you do have the last of your zucchini lingering on the counter or in the fridge, collecting syrupy dust and shriveling into old age, this recipe is for you. It's a fantastic little vegan pancake that requires minimal skill and effort. And the combination of turmeric (a veritable superfood) and chickpea flour (high protein and gluten-free) lends the dish a veneer of respectability even though it's basically fried dough. 

The batter is the fundamental element so even if you're not into zucchini, try this with grated carrots and onions, peppers and spinach, or any other combination of fresh and/or cooked vegetables. Note the intense yellow color--that's not me boosting saturation in Lightroom but the actual color of the pancake. It's the turmeric that infuses the batter with that marigold hue. (Not photographed: the pale shimmer of my Riesling but, I assure you, it was an integral part of the process). 

And the hazelnut romesco sauce? It's a flavor accent of sorts but not a necessity by any measure. I can't seem to eat anything savory without some sort of red pepper-based condiment, be it romesco or ajvar or harissa, but that's my small idiosyncrasy. If you'd rather serve the pancakes with something else, try a lemon tahini sauce, yoghurt or even labneh

Vegan Zucchini Pancakes (v/gf)

Adapted from Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-Kissed Cooking From The Riviera

Makes approx.  16 pancakes

1 cup chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour

3/4 cup water

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 lemon, zested

2 zucchini

avocado oil, for frying

Hazelnut Romesco (recipe below), fresh lemon juice, chopped parsley, sea salt

Whisk together the chickpea flour, water, minced garlic, turmeric, sea salt, and the zest of a lemon. Let the batter rest for 1 hour. 

Trim the ends off the zucchini but don't peel. Coarsely grate the zucchini in a food processor or by hand. Place in a colander, season well with salt and set aside for 20 minutes. Squeeze out excess moisture from the zucchini and add to the chickpea batter. 

Heat avocado oil in a skillet over medium heat--you need enough oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. For each pancake, drop a tablespoon of batter into the pan and flatten. Don't overcrowd the pan. Fry on the first side until the bottom is golden brown and small holes appear on the uncooked side. Flip and fry on the other side until golden brown. Transfer the pancake to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil. 

Sprinkle with sea salt, fresh lemon juice, and chopped parsley. Serve right away with Hazelnut Romesco. Pancakes will keep in the fridge for a day or in the freezer for one month. 

Hazelnut Romesco (v/gf)

Adapted from Romesco Sauce

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1/4 cup hazelnuts, raw

1/4 cup almonds, raw

1 slice stale bread

5 roasted red peppers (store-bought or homemade)

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley

1 garlic clove

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp sea salt, fine

crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

To roast your own peppers, see directions here. If the bread is not stale, toast it for a few minutes, but be sure to allow the bread to cool before you process the sauce.

Toast the almonds in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside to cool. Toast the hazelnuts in the same skillet until fragrant and the skin starts to crackle. Transfer the hazelnuts to a clean kitchen towel and allow to cool. Gather the towel into a bundle and massage the hazelnuts to remove the skin. Most--though not all--of the skin will slip right off. 

Add the hazelnuts, almonds, bread, and garlic to a food processor. Pulse 4 to 5 times and grind until coarse. Add the roasted peppers, parsley, tomato paste, smoked paprika, sea salt, chili flakes (if using), and sherry vinegar. Process to a smooth texture. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. Season with additional salt and/or vinegar to taste.

Romesco will keep in the fridge for about a week or in the freezer for one month.