That girl is on fire..fire..fiiiiire

No i swear I’m not channeling Alicia Keys or Katniss Everdeen, though given today is Election day I really did feel like it was going to be a Hunger Games kind of day but that’s politico talk and this is a place of happiness and joy and kittens from time to time.  My kitchen however; well on Sunday that place was probably as close to Hell as I have gotten in a while cooking wise.  Why?  Harissa..

What is harissa?  Besides the living embodiment of Satan?  It’s a spicy and rather aromatic chili paste which has roots in North African and Middle Eastern cooking and can be found on many a menu along side lovely dishes as babaganoush, hummus, chutneys, lamb kofta, beef kofta, shwarma, etc.  It’s a versatile paste which can be used to any chili or stew as a flavor enhancer or even as a dipping sauce for chicken and bread.  But man can it ever be spicy.

This weekend I got to try my hands and making it to pair it along side a Moroccan themed dinner I was having for some friends.  Roasted lamb with glass herbs that had been sous vide for 30+ hours, babaganoush, hummus, morrocan stew, couscous, naan & lavish bread.  It was quite a spread but I wanted to try something that could both compliment the lamb as well as possibly enhance it and of course me being me, the veritable unique snowflake that I am, I wanted to stay away from the normal traditional sauces that included mint, rosemary or yogurt.  So I ventured forth into Hell.  And like every good explorer I made sure to come well armed and prepared.  I wore goggles…And my Deadpool hat because well..Deadpool.

image000007 The ingredients for this harissa weren’t to difficult to obtain.  In fact you can pretty much find all of them in your ethnic aisle at your local grocery store.  And if not I’m sure that any international grocery store will carry them.    One suggestion would be to make sure you have gloves.  I didn’t wear any and got a rather wicked capsaicin burn on my left hand from playing with the rehydrated peppers.  And for the love of all that is Effie in the Hunger Game DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR YOUR BITS..YOU WILL HATE LIFE AND ALL THAT ARE AROUND YOU.  If you do happen to touch your bits um, well…..Yeah I’m sorry.

 

So the ingredients are simple and as follows.  Dried chili arbol peppers, cumin (ground or whole your choice), caraway seeds (ground or whole), sea salt, lemon, garlic, honey & olive oil.  See?  Nothing to fancy or expensive. It is however time consuming.  You don’t think ti would be but it probably took me roughly an hour plus dealing with the peppers themselves.  Sadistic bastards I hate you so so so so much >.<  t(o.to).  I’ll list all the ingredients and measurements at the bottom of the post.  image000005

The first thing you will want to do is make sure you really do have appropriate safety equipment because working with these peppers can cause potential breathing issues.  Weather permitting keep a window open and a fan going to help draw out the fumes once you start working hands on with the peppers.  Also make sure you have tissue nearby in case you start sneezing a lot.  I do and my nose runs so I enlist in the assistance of my husband to act as my scrub nurse and help me out so I don’t run the risk of touching my face and doing my re-enactment of Elphaba from The Wizard of Oz and scream that my face was melting. In a large sauce pan you will want to take two cups of dried chili arbol peppers.   No I’m not kidding, two cups of these little red seemingly innocuous peppers.  Cover with tap water and bring to a boil on your stove and allow to boil for 10 minutes to help soften the peppers and re-hydrate.  While this is happening you can prepare the rest of your ingredients which is to measure out your honey, olive oil, chop your garlic and get your lemon ready to go.  Also get a colander and a blender handy.  image000006

Once your peppers have softened you will want to dump them in colander and start running water over them.  This is where you will want to put on your disposable gloves because for the next hour or so you’ll be slicing these bad boys up and washing the seeds out of them as well as the ribs and pith.  This will help eliminate some of the intensity that inherently lives in peppers.  The burning sensation you get from peppers is caused by capsaicin which is a colorless, odorless, oily chemical found in peppers.  This chemical binds itself to certain sensory neurons and transmits the feeling of being burned even though there is no actual physical burning going on.  The majority of this chemical resides in the pith/ribs (white interior part of the pepper) so simply removing the seeds will not eliminate the devil in your mouth.  You have to take care of the insides as well.

Once you’ve sneezed, coughed, had to blow your nose about a good 5-6 times and then successfully de-seeded/veined your peppers you can now start building your Hellmouth sauce.  As you can see in the picture below, I was not happy at this point.  NOT AT ALL >.< but I am a determined committed chef and I wanted to see this through because I actually do enjoy spicy food.  image000001

So its really simple after this part.  You simply toss your ingredients into the food processor and mix till its a consistency you like.  I roughly chopped my peppers first and then slowly incorporated the rest and came out with a lovely smooth paste which to me is more appealing to my taste buds.  This can be paired with probably pretty much any protein or if you are adventurous, add this to your chip and salsa rotation at your next get-together.  Just don’t invite me.   Wait..no invite me because I wanna see if anyone cries ^.^

 

 

 

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Poor Dan.  He said he liked spicy!

Enjoy!

Harissa Dipping Sauce

  • Makes roughly 1 cup
  • 2 cups dried chili arbol (try subbing out for different peppers depending on your mood or if you truly do hate your dinner guests!
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • 1 tsp caraway, ground
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
  • sea salt to taste
  1. boil the peppers for 10 minutes or until soft, drain into colander
  2. slice each pepper (or skip a few if you want to make it spicer) and remove all seeds under running water
  3. grind the chilis in a food processor mince by hand if you truly are that much of a culinary masochist until it resembles a thick paste.
  4. Mix remaining ingredients, adding more oil, water or honey to get the consistency you prefer (i added more honey to assist in muting the heat….it didnt work)

 

 

I’m gonna gnocchi you out

I seem to be on a veritable roll this week with keeping this blog updated.  Go me for being either productive or not productive enough.  Das macht nichts (go on..you know you wanna look it up.  It means neither this/that doesn’t matter..My papa says it TONS!!!).  Whilst registering for the upcoming wedding I had made a mental reminder to ask for a gnocchi board because its insanely tedious to roll those little buggers out and then get the ridges with the back of a fork. And it reminded me that crap it’s Wednesday.  My normal dining partner had other plans and I had nothing to make for dinner.  Thank the Gods that the little corner store by my house has probably the most random things for sale.  Gustine’s Market.  If you’re a St. Louis resident that lives in South City I recommend you stop in and get a sample of wine and a Serendipity drumstick from the freezer section.  It’s amazing.  Plus the people are rather friendly so that’s a perk.

I never normally know ahead of time what I want for dinner when it’s just me cooking for myself. I’m perfectly content with cutting open an avocado and eating that for dinner; however my husband Kyle gets rather miffed if he realizes that I didn’t eat something that had some form of protein.  So when I got home I made a quick detour to Gustine’s Market and wandered the small tiny store and stumbled across the frozen gnocchi.  Now normally I make my own but with it being already 6 pm and me having not really the motivation to make homemade pasta I opted to go with one at least made locally.  Maria & Son’s.  I’m not ashamed.  Hey I’m pretty sure Gordan Ramsey at one point in his career has opted for something made by someone else in the name of saving time.  Don’t you shame me!

So off I go home with my tiny bag of perfectly rolled, frozen potato dumplings when I catch a whiff of what the neighbors were cooking.  I love my neighborhood.  It’s so…aromatic.  Coconut, cumin, curry powder.  Mmmmm Thai food and as we all know I am a sucker for a good Thai dish. And if you didn’t know, you know now.  Curry, gnocchi, I knew damn well I had sugar snap peas in my garden as well as some mushrooms and a ton of fresh basil.  The only question was, did I have all the ingredients to make my own curry slurry.  More then likely yes but did I want to take the time to make one from scratch?  Eeeeeeh Wednesday night, worked 12 hours at my primary job the answer to that was a no so this was a quick no fuss no muss idea.  And the results were awesome.

image000001Now I’ll never be one of this individuals that just use a pre made mix as is.  I always feel that it can be more of a “homemade” dish if you doctor it up some and while I was going to use a pre made curry paste the aromatics would be all me.  Now when a recipe calls for say 2 cloves of garlic minced I take that as a “suggestion” and always double it.  Never be stingy on the garlic as it is your friend.  So to my pre made paste I added my own aromatics.  Sweated the paste off with some onion till fragrant and then added the curry paste (red) and toasting it off.  I find toasting the paste adds an additional depth of flavor.  Kind of like when you toast tomato paste.  It helps deepen and concentrate the flavors, plus as I’ve gotten older I find I need bolder flavors in order to really appreciate my food.  More spice to counter balance the fact my taste buds over the course of the years have committed ritual seppuku to the God of Time.  Toss in some coconut milk and whatever vegetables you want and let them bubble away on low till your pasta/rice/chicken/whatever else you’re pairing it is with is cooked.  If you are going to use root vegetables I recommend parboiling them first or you will be waiting for a while for them to get soft and nothing says “this is….tasty o.0” like biting into a hard chunk of potato..Mmmmmm starchy..yeah no.  Sadly though albeit normal for me, by the time dinner was done cooking I wasn’t hungry but hey at least I have lunch for tomorrow (now today cause I’m a Time Lord and I can bend space

david-tennant-tardis

 

Now for the meat…or rather meatless portion of the post.  The actual recipe.  I kind of made it up as I went along but here’s the gist of it.  You will need the following for a serving for two individuals.

  • 5 cloves garlic crushed and rough chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried lemon grass
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thai chili powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed coriender
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 white/yellow onion sliced thin and diced\
  • 2 tablespoons pre made curry paste (I use Mai Ploy-Massaman Curry Paste)
  • 12 oz coconut milk (milk not cream..dont make the same mistake I’ve made…before)
  • vegetable add ins:  I used baby bellas and peas 
  • pasta/gnocchi/whatever you are doing this with
  • chopped fresh basil

Take all ingredients and place into a mortar and pestle and pound away whilst thinking about that person who spurned you back when you were younger.  Or the fact that you’re favorite sportsball team isn’t doing well this season.  Goooo Sportsball!.  If you do not have a mortar and pestle whirl it away in a food processor/magic bullet/ninja/etc. Place in a small dish and put it to the side to allow it to rest.

In a medium sauce pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and saute onions.  We want to achieve a little bit of the Maillard reaction (browning) to allow the inherent sweetness of the vegetable to show up.  This also allows the enzymes and amino acids found in the onion to change at the molecular level as to help stave off any potential threat of turning the garlic in the aromatics a blue green.  This occurs because of a chemical reaction between the enzymes/amino acids and the acidity in the garlic when the two items meet and mingle.  FOR SCIENCE!!!!.  Once you’ve achieved the desired level of browning add your aromatics and let them mingle until they become fragrant.  This should take only about 1 minute.  Any longer and you run the risk of burning your garlic and that can provide a rather acrid note to the dish.

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This is listed as a spicy curry paste so if your tastes are more mellow and calm you can by all means use the green curry paste or yellow.  This is all based off your personal preference.  I like spicy food but I am not biased in any sense of the word.  Add in your curry paste and allow it to toast.  How do you know if it’s toasting?  It will take on a deeper darker hue of red.  This only takes about a minute and a half max and you want to watch it to ensure it doesn’t burn.  Switch your spatula for a whisk and incorporate your coconut milk into your paste.  Add your mushrooms and let simmer on a medium low while you prepare your pasta/rice.  If it becomes to thin by all means thin with a little vegetable stock or even some white wine, water, a little more coconut milk or some half and half.  Add your peas at the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Nothing worse then mushy peas.  Top with fresh chopped basil and serve in warmed bowls

There ya go.  Total time depending on what you’re having with it no more then an hour if doing chicken or less then 25 if doing pasta with shrimp.  I opted to keep this a vegetarian dish but did have poached shrimp on the side for my protein.  Not to shabby for a Wednesday and goes to show that premade doesn’t always have to be boring as long as you add your own little twist to it.

 

Enjoy!