Harcha – Moroccan Semolina Bread (or biscuit?)

DSC_0030There is this young lady that goes by the name Alia.  Bless her soul, this gal is both an enthusiastic cook and a savage eater.  She is absolutely hilarious and has such an amazing, energized style that it makes you want to track her down and give her a big hug.  I don’t follow things on youtube much but Her Channel is worth checking out and, if you like her style, subscribing to; she typically has interesting things going on.  In addition to having a super cool attitude, she has a bunch of great Moroccan recipes that, I would assume are pretty authentic.

I was fascinated when I saw her video on a type of bread called Harcha.  Simply had to make them.  After slaving away for about…I don’t know, less than half an hour, I had a fresh batch of these suckers to go with dinner.  Style wise, they lie somewhere between a chunk of shortbread and a biscuit.  The heartiness of the pan toasted semolina and the richness of the butter makes a great platform for a wide variety of spreads and toppings.  They are really simple, really rich, really fast to make, and not at all good for you.  Yay!  We served ours with some triple cream brie just in case the hefty 230 calories and 3.3 g of fat in each harcha wasn’t enough.  Ate some lamb with them too in order to further boost that fat count for the week. … 

Read More »

Concentrated Soy Sauce

Concentrated Soy SauceThere are two sauces that go on our table with virtually every meal.  One is the ubiquitous chili sauce Sriracha and this is the other one.  There are several versions or formulations of concentrated soy, depending on the country of origin.  The one the we make for our use is the Japanese variety.  It is rich and complex in flavor, slightly smoky, and a little bit bitter.  It lacks the garlic and chili overtones of its Korean cousin and is not as astoundingly sweet as the Indonesian types.

We use this sauce as a standard table-top condiment to accent the flavor of meat, rice, and tofu dishes.  It is richly flavored enough to transform simple ingredients into a meal.  For example, eating a slab of plain tofu is simply not very exciting; drizzle this stuff over the top, add some scallions and nuts to garnish and you have created something worthy of stuffing in your face.  Good additions to round out the experience are a bowl of soup and a small bowl of rice.  Very tasty and just right for a fast lunch if you are pressed for time.  If you are trying to clean up or simplify your diet, this sauce is helpful because it provides enough flavor to make even bark dust interesting…. 

Read More »

Harissa – Sauce of Opportunity

HarissaHarissa is a term that covers a variety of chili-based condiments originating in North Africa.  Because I am not a food historian or any form of authority on what goes on in North Africa, I am going to discuss this sauce in purely practical terms.  The reality is that this stuff is tasty and versatile enough that we, generally, try to keep a jar or two of it in the refrigerator at all times.  It has deep, complex smoky flavor, musky overtones, and varies widely in the amount of heat that it brings to the table.  The batch that we are currently working through is actually quite mild in the heat department.  Sure, you could blow your sauce out with heat from the chilies, but I think that the complex interplay of the spices, the chilies, and final notes of citrus are more interesting.

Which brings me to another thing that I love about harissa; it is very much adaptable to individual taste and style of cooking.  If you start with someone else’s base recipe, you will find within about two batches that you have successfully altered it to match your own perception of how it should taste.  This is a situation where you should really listen to your instincts with respect to the proportion and amount of each ingredient.  Let’s take a closer look at how this sauce is built…. 

Read More »

Lemon-Simmered Kabocha Squash

DSC_0174My childhood memories of squash are not fond.  During the winters along the Lower Columbia River, we ate an abundance of squash in all its many forms.  After all, it was cheap, easy to grow, and stored well.  There was, however, this slight problem with monotony..soul crushing monotony.  I was a little surprised, when I got older, that there was more than one way to cook a squash.  And that other people were doing more than baking them with butter and brown sugar.  How was I to know?  I also remember being delighted when I found out that, once I stopped bathing all squash in butter and sugar, that different types of squash taste…different.  Weird.  I never saw that one coming.

Kabocha squash is a great example.  It is a deep green, thin skinned squash commonly used in Japanese dishes; although there it is called a pumpkin.  The flesh is mildly sweet, fine-grained and rich in in flavor.  The skin is delicate enough to eat and, because you leave it on, contributes to some pretty good looking dishes.  For this side dish, we add to these already solid traits by simmering the squash in dashi (Sea Stock) and lemon juice.  The lemon balances out the sweetness of the squash and the dashi brings some fine, smoky overtones. … 

Read More »

Coconut-Smothered Black-Eyed Peas

DSC_0096Love these things.  Around the house they are known as “Muppet Peas” due to the black, inanimate eyes of the peas that stare blankly at the diner.  I think the name became popular after a wine-soaked evening spent reviewing odd translations of names for Chinese dishes.  Anyway… out of all of the extremely tasty dishes that Raghavan Iyer chronicles in his book 660 Curries, this is one of my favorites.  This curry is very creamy in texture and has a slight sweetness from the coconut.  Add some heat from the Serrano chilis and muskiness from the mustard seed and curry leaf and you have a winner.

There is some debate regarding when a recipe becomes “original”.  When you consider that most cooks naturally try to express themselves through their cooking and instinctively make changes, the debate seems a little silly.  I like to err on the side of respect and simply cite the source of inspiration, assuming that it hasn’t been lost to the fog of history.  I think the true boundary is when you, as a cook, know that the creator of the recipe would view your creation as an abomination.  This version of the recipe has slight changes from the original that punch up the heat, add a bit of intensity to the spice profile, and also deal with the fact that fresh curry leaves are hard to come by in our area.  Hopefully, you will find that it stops short of abomination…. 

Read More »