By Melissa D’Arabian The Associated Press
I first tasted harissa when I was 19, and I travelled on a lone adventure to Tunisia after spending a semester abroad in France. I browsed the open markets, with their appealing drapey white cotton clothing – I wore billowy pants from that trip for years to follow.
I was particularly drawn to the fragrant spice section of the market, which beckoned me over with its unfamiliar, dazzling aromas. I bought as many small pouches of mystery spices that my student budget could afford. My favourite was harissa, a mix of chilies and warm spices like coriander, cumin and paprika.
Thirty years later, harissa is fairly easy to find in the U.S., either in a well-stocked neighbourhood supermarket or online. If you like spicy food at all, it’s a worthy purchase. It’s available in both paste and dry powdered form, and once it’s on your shelf, you’ll find hundreds of uses for harissa – mix it into hummus or yogurt for a quick dip, add a spoonful to stews to deepen the flavour, rub meat for grilling, brush it on roasted or sauteed vegetables, or even on buttered toast for a tasty garlic-bread-like indulgence. Another idea: Add harissa to salad dressings to add an international flair.
Today’s recipe for North African Carrot and Chickpea Salad pairs lightly sweet carrots with the warmth of harissa, and the result is balanced and not overly spicy, although feel free to add more or less according to your tastes.
Chickpeas add heft and protein, so you could turn this side dish into a vegetarian main, and herbs keep the dish bright and fresh. Purchasing the carrots pre-shredded is an excellent weekday timesaver. But even if you start with whole carrots, the entire dish can be thrown together in mere minutes.
NORTH AFRICAN CARROT AND CHICKPEA SALAD
Start to finish: 15 minutes
Salad:3 cups shredded carrots
1 1/4 cup cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained if canned, about 1 can
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped almonds
Dressing:1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice or lime juice
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon lemon or lime zest
1 teaspoon powdered harissa (or 1 tablespoon harissa paste), or to taste (If you can’t find it, substitute a mixture of smoked or sweet paprika, cayenne, cumin, coriander and granulated garlic.)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Place all the salad ingredients in a salad bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, lemon or lime juice and zest, water, harissa and salt until well-blended. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until blended. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Serve.