harissa

We at weirdcombinations have become big fans of Taste of Beirut (which I’ll abbreviate as “ToB” here). Many of the exciting recipes on that blog offer delicious vegetarian options and creative uses of seasonal ingredients all presented in an accessible and personal style that we really enjoy. Last week I saw the ToB post for “eggplant, bulgur and tomato casserole” and decided to try the recipe myself.

ToB style eggplant tomato bulgur casserole without the dish

This one appealed to me in particular because the ingredients themselves aren’t that complex and I’m always curious about new ways of preparing bulgur. Of course, I didn’t follow Joumana’s recipe perfectly as I didn’t quite have all the right things. For instance, she recommends coarse bulgur #4 but I only had coarse bulgur #3. (I’ve been wondering about that, Joumana. What are the differences between the various sizes of bulgur and how might an inexperienced cook decide which to use if it isn’t clear from the recipe?)

This recipe calls for dashes of cinnamon and allspice, which I didn’t have. Instead I used a small stick of cinnamon and a whole “ball” of allspice which I removed after simmering the tomato sauce. I made my own vegetable stock with carrot and onion. Finally, as an optional step, the ToB master recipe recommends tomato paste or red pepper paste. I used some spicy Harissa sauce which I had on hand and felt was in the spirit of the dish.

I was worried about flipping the casserole out of the dish at the end but it was really easy. The eggplant becomes a vegetable covering, almost like a soft crust over the filling. It was stunning to look at the finished casserole and it tasted wonderfully. I encourage you to try this and to check out Taste of Beirut.

key ingredients for eggplant tomato bulgur casserole

Taste of Beirut style Eggplant Tomato Bulgur Casserole without the Dish

2 large eggplants
Olive oil as needed
2 large onions
4 cloves garlic
1½ lbs. tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1½ cups coarse bulgur
2 to 3 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp. Harissa sauce
1 small cinnamon stick or a dash of powdered
1 whole allspice “ball” or a dash of powdered
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Kalamata olives, cilantro and dash of paprika as garnish

Rinse bulgur and soak in a large bowl of water for thirty minutes.

While bulgur soaks, peel eggplant and cut into slices. Mine were about ½ inch thick but shrank a lot during preparation. I cut a few rounds and the rest as long strips as I wanted to try for a flower design for the final presentation. Once the eggplant is sliced, toss with salt and allow to rest in a colander for thirty minutes or so.

Immediately begin the tomato sauce once bulgur and eggplant are resting.

Chop onions and sauté in a few tablespoons olive oil until they become golden and a bit translucent (about 5 minutes). Add diced tomatoes, some salt to taste, the cinnamon and allspice. Simmer for about thirty minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.

After the sauce has had time to simmer, add mashed garlic, Harissa sauce, rinsed soaked bulgur and vegetable stock. I removed the cinnamon stick and allspice at this point. Cook covered for about twenty minutes or until bulgur is cooked. Adjust salt and add more vegetable stock if needed (I used about 2½ cups stock).

While bulgur cooks, rinse eggplant slices and fry in olive oil until they become soft. Remove to a platter covered with paper towels. Dab off excess olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper.

To assemble the dish, begin by covering the interior of a large bowl with cling film. Then arrange eggplant slices over inner surface of bowl in an attractive pattern. Gently pour tomato bulgur filling over eggplant slices to the rim of the bowl. I had a bit extra filling which I kept aside. Allow to rest to let bulgur cool a little and “set.”

To serve, invert a large serving dish over bulgur. Holding the dish firmly over the bowl, flip the platter and bowl. Remove bowl and cling film. Garnish with cilantro, olives and a dash of paprika.

Thanks for the amazing recipe, Joumana!

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linguini with harissa, chick pea, mushroom and spinach

linguini with harissa, chick pea, mushroom and spinach

Harissa is a spicy chili paste commonly associated with Moroccan cooking but it is widely used all over North Africa. Harissa is made with hot chili peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes, preserved lemons, olive oil, salt, cumin, caraway, coriander and other spices. The flavor may sometimes vary, depending on the brand you buy. When you taste harissa expect an explosion in your mouth. Your taste buds will be bombarded with several layers of flavor hitting you with different intensities. There will be spicy hot, sweet, lemony sour, salty, smoky and the earthy flavors from the spices. Harissa is delicious in soups, sandwiches, couscous, pasta and goes perfectly well with chick-peas.

A couple of years ago while reading the Vegetarian Times I bumped into a recipe for pasta with harissa and chick peas that I thought would taste good. I postponed making it for several months because it seemed too labor intensive at the time. Well finally one day I decided to give it a whirl. Yes, it did prove to be a bit labor intensive, but guess what? I have been making it ever since! It is that good.

key ingredients for linguini with harissa, chick pea, mushroom and spinach

key ingredients for linguini with harissa, chick pea, mushroom and spinach

This is a complete, healthy meal; utterly vegan and free of cholesterol! Sorry Vegetarian Times, I may have introduced a few changes along the way. With that said, let’s go to the recipe:

Linguine with Harissa, Chick Pea, Mushroom and Spinach

Ingredients:
1 lb pack of linguine or other long pasta of your choice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp harissa paste*
Pinch saffron threads
1 cup cooked chick-peas
1 bag fresh cleaned baby spinach, about 7oz (200gr)
4 cups of water
1 to 1 ½ lb mushrooms of your choice, roughly chopped+
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
6 tbsp olive oil

*I get my harissa paste at Whole Foods. I haven’t yet found it elsewhere in San Francisco. Any recommendations?

+for this recipe I used cremini and Portobello but if you want to be fancy you can use morels, shitakes, or chanterelles. Of course, regular button mushrooms will do in a pinch. I have made this pasta before with these more exotic mushrooms. It was incredible!

oven-toasted linguini looks like this when correctly done

oven-toasted linguini looks like this when correctly done

linguini with harissa, chick pea, mushroom and spinach close up

linguini with harissa, chick pea, mushroom and spinach close up

How to:
Start by boiling salted water for cooking the pasta.

Pre heat your oven to 400F. Spread the pasta on a cookie sheet. Place it in the oven and toast till begins to brown. This process should take a couple of minutes tops! Do not burn it! Remove and set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a deep pan and sauté ½ of the garlic and tomato paste for a minute or so.

Add to pan harissa sauce, saffron threads and water. Stir till tomato paste has dissolved and lumps are gone. Increase temperature to boil, immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 8-10 minutes. Add chick peas in the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Using a skillet heat 3 tbsp oil and sauté mushrooms and remaining garlic together for 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm. Mushrooms get too soggy when sautéed with salt therefore I recommend that you salt them afterward.

Drop pasta into boiling water and cook it half of total time required on the package. My Trader Joe’s linguine called for 7 minutes total so I cooked it for a mere 3 ½ minutes. Drain pasta in a colander.

Using the same pan in which pasta has been cooked, return it to stove burner heat adjusted to low, place fresh spinach at the bottom. Then add cooked pasta and top it with tomato-harrisa-chick pea sauce. Keep it stirring until most of juices have been absorbed and pasta reaches the ‘al dente’ texture, about 3-5 minutes. Lastly add mushrooms. Transfer to a nice serving plate and bon appétit!

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