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.


Spring Vegetable Frittata w/Pea Shoot Salad

by Maja Lukic


It sort of feels like spring, by which I mean, it's almost warm outside and there are yellow daffodils near my office. To be fair, there have been signs of a new season in the market for quite some time: fresh peas, fresh asparagus, delicate herbs, sorrel, all manner of lettuces and greens, spring onions, new potatoes, and green beans. (This is also the year that I am determined to move beyond my standard pink radishes and conquer ramps, baby artichokes, and fiddlehead ferns).

But I felt pretty listless and uninspired a few weeks ago and I took an extended break from the kitchen/blogging. I find that a break and a change of focus can spur creativity and renewed interest sometimes. I went on vacation and when I came back, the city was a lot brighter, a little warmer. It's not quite there yet but with the sunshine and warmer air, I'm starting to feel excited about cooking again. Because, really, now that winter is over, I'm in for six or seven months of Saturday morning trips to the farmers' market and lazy Sunday night dinners. To prepare, I've been rereading Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy  and other vegetable-minded books. And before you ask, yes, I do have the new Deborah Madison cookbook The New Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, which features over 1600 new (to me) vegetarian recipes and weighs about sixty pounds. (Look, I'm a huge nerd.). 

I walked into the kitchen one Sunday morning, grabbed a cast-iron skillet and some fresh vegetables and pulled together a delicious frittata brunch in about 30 minutes. I like lazy, spontaneous meals like this. 

This is a delicious frittata, notwithstanding the lack of cheese (though some of you may argue that cheese is vital and, if that is the case for you, go ahead and add some cheese to your frittata). The texture is perfect and has a clean cut. And because I tend to underbake it, it remains moist. Dry eggs are a sin. 

It's also a flexible, adaptable recipe -- feel free to substitute other vegetables or herbs for the ones listed here. Despite its claim to spring and fresh vegetables, it's kind of a pantry meal even if you don't have access to fresh produce. Frozen sweet peas taste sweeter, in my opinion, so if you only have frozen peas, use frozen peas. If you don't have fresh herbs, try dried oregano or herbes de provence. (And frozen asparagus or frozen green beans are decent substitutes for fresh asparagus but fresh asparagus is everywhere right now). The lemon zest is my secret ingredient and it makes the whole thing shine -- please don't leave it out. 

And pea shoots. Pea shoots are lovely. If I'm using peas in a dish, I typically try to include pea shoots as well. Pea shoots are the delicate leaves and tendrils from pea plants (any variety) and are distinguishable from pea sprouts by their longer, more mature stems and leaves. They're flavorful, nutrient dense, and widely available this time of year. I like to dress them simply with a burst of lemon juice, a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and some good salt. 

Before you go, I have some interesting/absurd/exciting blog news. My Mushroom Socca w/Rosemary and Blistered Tomatoes is featured in the April issue of the Russian edition of Saveurs. It's a French magazine and I don't think it's available in the USA but if you find yourself walking the streets of Moscow (or Paris) without any reading material, please pick up a copy. 

Spring Vegetable Frittata with Pea Shoot Salad (gf)

Makes 1  10.25" frittata (serves 4-6 approx.)

Frittata:

1 tbsp avocado oil (or other cooking oil)

1 large shallot, sliced crosswise into rings 

1 lb. asparagus (approx. 1 bunch)

1 cup fresh shucked peas (or frozen peas)

6 large eggs

1 tbsp fresh chives, minced

1 tsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped

3/4 tsp sea salt

1 lemon, zest only

Salad:

4-5 cups fresh pea shoots

olive oil

lemon juice

sea salt, black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 F degrees (or turn on broiler). 

Trim the asparagus and slice diagonally into 1-inch pieces. If using fresh peas, rinse and drain the peas. 

Heat a cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet) over medium heat. Saute the shallot and asparagus in the avocado oil with 1/4 tsp sea salt until cooked through and lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the peas. If using fresh peas, saute for a few minutes until the peas are cooked through. If using frozen peas, move on to the next step. Stir in the zest of 1 lemon. Save the rest of the lemon to dress the salad below.

While the vegetables are cooking, whisk the eggs with 1/2 tsp salt and add the fresh herbs. Add the beaten eggs to the skillet and stir the vegetables a bit to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Cook over medium heat until the eggs are just set, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Move the frittata to the oven and either broil or bake at 450 F degrees until cooked through, about 5 minutes. For a crispier top, you can continue to cook until the frittata is browned and caramelized. (I like to pull it out earlier so that the eggs do not dry out. Also, the eggs will continue to cook in the pan.). 

Allow the frittata to cool a bit and then gently loosen the edges and the bottom with a heat-proof spatula. Transfer the frittata to a serving platter. (You can try to slide it out and hope it stays intact. But the best way to do this is to grab two plates, cover the skillet with the first plate, carefully flip the skillet over, and then cover the first plate with a second plate and flip again.). 

Dress the pea shoots with a squeeze of lemon juice and olive oil, to taste. Season with a healthy sprinkle of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Toss with your hands.

To serve, arrange about a cup of pea shoots on each plate and top with a slice of frittata. Serve with a dollop of harissa, crème fraîche, or other condiment of choice, and more fresh chives. 

Leftover frittata can be stored in the fridge and can be served either cold or at room temperature. Avoid reheating.

Note: I use a 10.25-inch cast iron skillet for 6 eggs and about 3 cups of vegetables. For a heartier frittata, add two more eggs. You can either bake or broil the frittata to finish it off (I tend to bake because my broiler is unreliable). 


Winter Squash and Chickpea Soup w/Sage, Harissa, and Hazelnuts

by Maja Lukic


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This soup may be the result of cooking too many Yotam Ottolenghi recipes over the years and the fact that I now love to add specialty Middle Eastern ingredients to all of my vegetable dishes. Or it came about because I needed to exercise some pseudo painterly inclinations and play with bright colors and pure aesthetics while stuck inside during a snowstorm. I don't know. Probably, it's some combination of the two. 

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The upside of all the miserable weather we've had in NYC as of late is that I have been reading a lot -- anything within reach, basically, but cookbooks and poetry in particular. Recently, I stumbled on Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-kissed Cooking From the French Riviera by Hillary Davis (the blogger behind Marche Dimanche). Davis covers Niçoise cooking specifically, which feels both new and oddly familiar, and in so doing, she touches on two of my favorite topics -- rustic French cooking and the French Riviera. 

The beauty of this book is startling on many levels. The photography/food styling is simple, elegant, and effortless. The recipes are creative and evocative of both a different time and a different place. And it contains some of the most gorgeous and poetic cookbook writing I have ever read. She describes a seafood lunch at Hotel Belles Rives where F. Scott Fitzgerald worked on "Tender Is The Night." She describes her travels through the local villages, shopping at the local markets, and the recipes and meals that inspired her cooking along the way. (In case you're wondering, yes, there is a recipe for a traditional Salade Niçoise, and no, potatoes and string beans are not traditional ingredients).

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This recipe was inspired by the Creamless Creamy Chickpea and Sage Purée from Cuisine Nicoise. I played with the concept of a blended chickpea soup until it took a shape of its own, quite altered from the original. But mentioning the original gives me an excuse to rave about Davis's cookbook and so here we are. 

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The most surprising thing about this soup is that it actually tastes good. I'm being candid here -- it's such a confluence of seemingly contradictory flavors that I was a little concerned about the end result. But the subtle flavors meld together into a mellow smoky-sweet bisque. For the harissa, you are welcome to use any brand you like but I chose the Mina Mild Harissa for its subdued flavor and gorgeous color. (You can check out the other flavors here: http://www.casablancafoods.com/index.php?/).* 

I love that it's a fresh interpretation of something tired and tried, like the squash-sage pairing (or even squash-sage-hazelnut). Squash and sage is a favored combination because it works but the addition of harissa and chickpeas here offers a nuanced experience. 

We're still a few weeks away from spring -- stay warm. 

Winter Squash and Chickpea Soup w/Sage, Harissa, and Hazelnuts

Inspired by Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-Kissed Cooking From the French Riviera

Serves 4 generously

1 kabocha or butternut squash (approx. 2-3 lbs.)

1 cup dried or 2 cans chickpeas

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp avocado oil (or other cooking oil)

1 red onion, chopped

4-5 sage leaves, rolled tightly and sliced into thin strips

1 tsp. fresh thyme

1 garlic clove, minced

4-6 cups chickpea cooking liquid or vegetable stock (or water)

1 lemon, juiced

garnish: 1/4 cup harissa, 1/2 cup whole hazelnuts, raw, 8 sage leaves

olive oil, for frying sage leaves

sea salt and black pepper

If using dried chickpeas, soak the chickpeas overnight. Drain and rinse well. In a large soup pot, cover the chickpeas with an inch or two of cold water, add in 1 bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for about an hour to an hour and a half or until tender. Season with 1/2 tsp of sea salt. If you're not cooking the soup right away, store the chickpeas in their cooking liquid in the fridge for a few days. Otherwise, drain the chickpeas and reserve the cooking liquid but discard the bay leaf. If using canned chickpeas, drain the beans and rinse them well. Discard canning liquid. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and slice the squash into 1-inch cubes. Drizzle with avocado oil (or other cooking oil) and season lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Roast for about 35 to 40 minutes or until soft and lightly browned, stirring halfway. 

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of avocado oil over medium high heat. Sautee the onion for a few minutes until translucent and fully cooked through. Add garlic, sage, and thyme and sautee for another minute or two. Add the cooked chickpeas to the pan and heat them through.  

Blend the chickpea mixture and the roasted squash together with 4 to 6 cups of chickpea cooking liquid and/or vegetable stock. The amount of liquid you need will depend on how thick you'd like your soup to be. 

Pour the blended soup into a large pot and cook over low heat until it comes to a gentle simmer. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon and season with additional sea salt and black pepper, to taste. 

Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes or until they're fragrant and the skin starts to crack. Transfer the roasted hazelnuts to a clean kitchen towel and allow them to cool. Then gather the towel into a little bundle and massage the hazelnuts to remove the skin. Most, though not all, of the skin will flake off. Once peeled, roughly chop the hazelnuts.

Fry 8 fresh sage leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds to crisp them up. Remove them with a slotted spoon or spatula to a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. 

Portion the soup into four bowls (or more, depending on the amount of stock and squash you used). Swirl a tablespoon of harissa into each bowl of soup and top each bowl with two fried sage leaves and a few toasted hazelnuts. Serve. 

Suggested Shortcut:  Instead of 1 cup dried chickpeas, use 2 cans of chickpeas. Roast the squash, onions, sage, and thyme together in the oven. Blend everything together with 4 to 6 cups of vegetable stock (or water) and proceed with seasoning and garnish as above. 

Notes: If you don't want to use squash, feel free to swap carrots or sweet potatoes or any other root vegetable. Please don't buy the pre-sliced squash -- it's bad for the environment and unnecessary. Buy a whole squash and break it down yourself with Food52's help. Be careful when reheating the soup because it has a tendency to bubble and boil.

Full Disclosure: From time to time, I may mention products on the blog but all opinions expressed are my own. I will not promote a product I do not like and/or use in my own household. In this instance, I created a recipe with Mina Mild Harissa before the kind folks at Mina reached out to me.