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.


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. 


Shaved Fennel Persimmon & Walnut Salad

by Maja Lukic


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Perhaps it's because I've been more sedentary than usual or perhaps it's the brutal onslaught of ice and snow but I've had this craving for fresh winter salads. After a few days of fantasizing about light and healthy but seasonal dishes, I grabbed some fennel and a handful of persimmons and got to work.

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The result is a salad plate that shines with bright flavors and vibrant colors. The gorgeous orange color of the persimmons is visually uplifting and eases the lack of sunlight, the vast expanse of gray skies, and the distinct sensation that everything has assumed a sort of lifeless quality. (I may be struggling with some seasonal blues). The walnut oil and toasted walnuts ground the salad -- it is winter, after all -- and tone down the strong anise flavor of the raw fennel. The arugula is probably an optional component. Leave it in, leave it out -- I think the salad also works pretty well without it.  

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There was a time, not too long ago, when I couldn't stand the taste of raw fennel. In fact, I thought fennel was inedible unless roasted or braised into oblivion. Totally misguided! Raw fennel, sliced thinly into delicate wisps and paired with a bright vinaigrette and contrasting ingredients such as sweet ripe fruit and toasted nuts, is amazing in a salad. As with all things, I'm late to the party. If you're really into raw fennel salads, check out these other interesting variations on the theme: Celery, Apple, and Fennel Slaw, Fennel and Blood Orange Salad, and Shaved Fennel Salad

Persimmons are a recent obsession of mine. This pretty coral fruit has a sweet flavor that falls somewhere in between an apple and butternut squash and is amazingly healthy -- some label it a superfood but I'm not a fan of that word. 

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Because I'm still psychologically scarred from a singular experience with an underripe Hachiya persimmon, I would recommend that you choose the Fuyu varietal for this salad. The Fuyu (pictured throughout) is distinguished by its flat bottom and squash shape and sort of resembles an orange tomato. The Fuyu can be eaten while still firm. The heart-shaped Hachiya has a pointy bottom and a deep orange-red color. If not fully ripened, it imparts a horrible astringent and furry taste and is basically inedible. If you've never had the experience, I can confidently tell you that it's not a great sensation in the mouth. (For what it's worth, the Hachiya is more appropriate for baking/roasting anyway). But persimmons are wonderful little fruits and a welcome seasonal ingredient.

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One final note: I'm still adjusting to my new camera and lens -- which I love -- so if the photos look slightly off, I apologize and promise it will only get better from here. Which is to say, please keep checking back!

Shaved Fennel, Persimmon, and Walnut Salad w/Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette (v/gf)

Serves 2

For the salad

1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced paper thin

2 persimmons, sliced paper thin

2-3 cups arugula 

1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tbsp maple syrup (or more to taste)

2 tbsp toasted walnut oil

sea salt

Prepare the Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and walnut oil. Taste and sweeten with additional maple syrup, to taste.

Toast the walnuts in a skillet over medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly fragrant. 

Slice the fennel and persimmons thinly in a food processor or with a sharp knife. For the fennel, cut off the stalks and trim the ends. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, remove the core (save for snacking), and slice the fennel crosswise into paper thin wisps. For the persimmons, cut them in half lengthwise and slice thinly into half moons.  

In a large salad bowl, toss the shaved fennel with half of the vinaigrette and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the persimmons, arugula, and walnuts to the fennel. Gently toss the salad with as much of the remaining vinaigrette as you'd like and season lightly with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Note: Slice the fennel and persimmons as thinly as possible. I have a dim view of mandolines so I would recommend a food processor with a shredding/slicing attachment or a sharp knife and some patience. About an eighth of an inch or thinner is best for both the fennel and the persimmons. You may substitute the walnut oil with olive oil, avocado oil, or a different nut oil.