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.


French Lentil Soup w/Turnip, Parsnip & Quelites

by Maja Lukic


DSC01598.JPG

This lentil soup requires some urban foraging, which for me at least consists of walking to Union Square farmers market and buying a lovely bunch of lamb’s-quarters (also known as quelites, wild spinach and goosefoots). Quelites is a general term that encompasses a wide range of wild, edible and supremely nutritious plants.  They grow on their own like weeds. You can see them pictured in these photos.

As has been pointed out by others, quelites easily replace spinach in any recipe. I think they almost taste better than mature spinach and far better than baby spinach, which is fairly useless as a vegetable anyway (spitefully placing most baby vegetables into this category). For more information on lamb's-quarters/quelites, go here. I particularly like using these wild, beautiful greens in this soup to break up the tired lentil-spinach soup routine.

DSC01609.JPG
DSC01592.JPG
DSC01619.JPG

And so, this soup -- I hesitated about posting this recipe. I do like warm, rustic seasonal dishes but a lentil soup? Très plain. In the end, though, I went ahead with the lentil photo shoot. Because I love a good lentil soup. It's a nice, comforting thing to have in the freezer on a busy winter night. Also, a lentil soup is completely unpretentious – there is nothing unhealthy about it and it won't even try to entice you. This isn't a cauliflower pizza crust or carrot fries or some other nutritious food item masquerading as a lecherous, unhealthy dish. Indeed, the typical lentil soup is fairly unattractive -- a watery, murky brown mess. 

DSC01607.JPG

But a few embellishments can make even a drab lentil soup seem new and exciting. I like to balance the lentils with a good amount of other vegetables. We all know how much I love working with rustic, root vegetables (see here, here, here, and here) so this recipe includes sweet parsnips and turnips. Their starch lends substance to the broth. Other important details: a lot of tomato paste to stave off the foggy brown colors that most lentil soups have; minimal liquid for a thick, stewy consistency; lots of dried herbs and warm spices; cups and cups of leafy greens at the very end (chard, spinach, or kale); and a burst of fresh lemon juice off the heat. The simple lentil soup quickly becomes a next level meal. 

But even if you can’t be bothered to make an entire soup this weekend, I would recommend picking up some quelites the next time you're at the market. 

French Lentil Soup w/Turnip, Parsnip and Quelites (v/gf)

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 large carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, chopped

2 large celery stalks, chopped

1 turnip, peeled and chopped

2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 dried bay leaf

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes

1 cup dry white wine (optional)   

1 cup French green lentils (lentilles du puy) 

1/3 cup tomato paste

6 cups water (or stock)

5 to 6 cups quelites (clusters of leaves only, no stems)

sea salt and black pepper

Before you start cooking, clean the quelites. Pick the soft leaves off the thick stems (discard the stems) and wash them well. The leaves can be extremely sandy.  

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, turnip, and parsnips to the pot and cook, stirring often, for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent. Add the bay leaf, oregano, cumin, chili flakes and garlic to the pot and cook for another 30 seconds but do not let the spices or garlic burn. 

If using, add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Cook for a few more minutes until the wine has slightly reduced. 

Rinse the lentils well and add them to the pot along with the tomato paste and water (or stock). Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium low and allow the soup to simmer uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes. Taste the lentils for doneness and be sure not to overcook them. If the soups dries out too much as it cooks, add another 1/2 cup or so of water, as necessary, but a thick consistency is best.

Near the end of the cooking time, add the quelites to the pot. They only require a few minutes of cooking time and will reduce considerably as they wilt down.  

Take the soup off the heat and stir in the juice of half a lemon. Taste for seasoning and add in sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste. Allow the soup to cool slightly and serve with additional lemon juice.

It will keep in the fridge for a few days and will only get better with time as the flavors develop. For long-term storage, freeze individual portions for up to 1 month. 

Note: Do not add salt until the lentils are fully cooked through. Adding salt too early in the cooking process ruins their texture. In fact, for the best texture and flavor, be sure to use French green lentilles du Puy. (I also do not recommend substituting canned or frozen lentils because they tend to be mushy). The lentilles du Puy are worth the investment and you should have plenty left over to make salads such as this one by David Lebovitz.