Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A condiment occasion

One would think my full-time job as a cook might slow my pace of home-cooking, but not so, sir! Yesterday I spent exactly the entire day in the kitchen, made two new spice blends (a fish spice and some Ras El-Hanout), used the latter to make homemade harissa, made a pickled red onion condiment, and also whipped up some parsley butter with loads of garlic. Also, I oven-dried some tomatoes to use in my harissa. Here's the aerial view:

You may be asking yourself, what's this harissa stuff? Well, it's a sauce typically used in North African (ie. Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) kitchens for many purposes, such as flavoring meats, brightening soups, mixing into cous-cous, etc. The uses are rather infinite because it's so damn tasty. The number of recipes for harissa are just about as infinite, but mine is a blend of the following (makes about 1 cup):

1/2 cup ground hot red chilis
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I used my oven-dried ones)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons Ras el Hanout **
2 tablespoons olive oil

Note: you'll want to strain this blend through a fine-mesh sieve before serving to extract all the chili pepper skins and seeds.

** Ras el Hanout translates from Moroccan Arabic to "head of the shop" and refers to a spice mixture comprised of the best products the shop owner has to offer. So, again, many different variations on this tune. Mine has cumin, saffron, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and loads of medium-hot paprika.

After I had played mad-scientist with my spices for long enough, I made a simple dinner of grilled steak strips placed on pita bread to showcase my new repertoire of condiments: the still hot steak got a slight schmear of parsley butter, then a pile of pickled onions, then a drizzle of my extra hot harissa.

Accompanying the main was a salad of thinly-sliced fennel bulbs, sectioned oranges, and baby greens, seasoned simply with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a light sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Oh, and there was plenty of vino! Dan contributed a shiraz, and Steph a syrah - both totally hit the bulls-eye of appropriate meat-pairing wines. And both were mercilessly drained by the end of the evening!

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