My friend Thavida suggested I try harissa. I didn’t know what it was so I did a search on the internet. It is a roasted red pepper sauce from North Africa. It is mixed with spices and served with grilled meats. Since I prefer to cook low fat, which can get boring, for how many ways can you grill/broil/bake a chicken breast? Dipping sauces help alleviate the boredom and keep me seated at the table, savoring each mouthful.
I adapted this recipe from the food network.com and served it with Thai cucumber salad, baked spaghetti squash, and baked plantain. It’s eclectic but I like mixing things up. The cucumber was cool and the dressing slightly sweet with the crunch of peanuts and onion. The plantain was vaguely sweet, and so was the squash, liberally buttered and sprinkled with brown sugar, salt and pepper. The harissa itself was mild tasting, tangy but not oily, with overtones of cumin. I’d up the chilies the next time I make this.
Yogurt Marinated Chicken Skewers with Harissa
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
1 (1 to 2-inch) knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1 inch chunks
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, halved
Harissa, recipe follows
In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, ginger, cumin, chili flakes and salt. Whisk until smooth and pour into a baking dish. Lay the chicken halves, skin side up, in the yogurt mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours to marinate. Do not marinate longer than 2 hours for the yogurt will “cook” the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the yogurt, leaving any excess behind. Thread the chunks onto metal skewers, about 4-5 per skewer. Broil or grill the chicken skewers until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the chunks registers between 155 degrees F and 160 degrees F, about 5-10 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a serving platter and sprinkle with lemon juice. Top with harissa and serve immediately.
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded (I used half a jar of roasted peppers, drained)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to coat the top of the harissa
In a small bowl, combine the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and caraway seeds. Add the spices to a small saucepan and heat for 1 to 2 minutes. You should faintly detect the scent of the spices. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Add the paprika and chili flakes to the spice mix.
Using a mortar and pestle (or, alternatively, a food processor) grind the garlic cloves until they become a paste, then add the red bell pepper. Season with salt, to taste, then add the spices and the 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and blend well. When blended, transfer the harissa to a container and top with some additional olive oil. This will keep for 3 to 6 weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.
Yield: 1/2 cup
I adapted this recipe for Thai Cucumber Salad from Allrecipes.com. It has a mild flavor that cools the palate. The jalapeño pepper is very mild, so if you want a spicier version use Thai chilies instead.
Thai Cucumber Salad (Allrecipes.com)
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar (Use white vinegar if rice wine vinegar isn’t available)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 shallot or red onion, halved and sliced
1/4 cup chopped or whole peanuts (I recommend roasted unsalted peanuts)
1. Toss the cucumbers with the salt in a colander, and leave in the sink to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse with cold water, then drain and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Whisk together the sugar and vinegar in a mixing bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and onion; toss to combine. Sprinkle chopped/whole peanuts on top before serving.