Harissa

I often get ideas for recipes not in the kitchen, but in the garden. The plants, they talk. They give you hints and nudges. Not in words, of course, but in little whiffs of smells – or the irresistible beauty of their fruits and roots and leaves.

I’m trying again with the garden. It’s hard after the bitter disappointment of seeing everything I worked so hard for eaten up to non-existence. The pigs are doing a good job of clearing out the tall weeds on the other side of the garden, and I finally got the pig netting fence electrified enough to keep them from busting through it and devouring the cassava and sweet potatoes (pigs don’t herd back in very well, by the way).

Once everything is clear, it becomes much harder for the little rodents to come across a cleared space with the owls, hawks, and cats about. I also will sow rye grass along the edges of the garden, as a little offering to hungry things to keep them away from my food plants.

There’s something so depressing about the bare empty space of a failed garden – like looking over a wasteland of bitterness and spoiled hopes. And yet – we have so many barren spaces that we carve out of the living earth – spaces of concrete and exhaust, fluorescent lights and stale air smelling of moldy carpets or disinfectant.

I recently read, and really enjoyed this article about the inner Fascist/authoritarian. Ethan originally read me the article, and said afterwards, “I think your inner fascist comes out in the garden.”

Yes!!!!!!

OMG, it’s so true….THAT is my constant struggle against chaos! Here I am laying the paths nice and straight, tweaking out the plants I don’t want, killing things that I decide don’t belong. It’s where I strive to have complete control over manifesting my dreams in whatever fashion I desire.

It’s creative, and done with love and passion, and a view for the health of my family and the earth we inhabit, but I can’t deny that it satisfies my inner authoritarian. It’s funny that when I’m in this space I feel free and unconstrained – I guess because I am totally in charge!

Well, I tell myself that at least the little piece of earth I’m allowed to dominate can be filled with beautiful flowers, butterflies and beneficial insects, healthy microbes, fragrant herbs and fresh, colorful vegetables! Dominating the landscape certainly doesn’t have to equal wasteland. So, despite feelings of failure and disappointment – there is work to be done. There is a wasteland to cultivate. Hoe and shovel in hand, I start again!

Meanwhile, I am trying to find new and interesting ways to use all these hot peppers. We had made Harissa, a flavorful spice paste from Algeria, last year and I’ve been craving it’s complex flavor. It’s great as a condiment, as a rub on roasted meat, as a flavoring for soups, curries, greens, and sauces. You can add it to fried sweet potatoes (new recipe coming up!). It adds spice, color and piquant flavor, and perks up bland dinners like pots of beans or pumpkin.

HARISSA

A roasting-pan’s worth of hot peppers (they don’t have to be really spicy – I’ve been using the Jasmyn Rissie peppers and what I think are Aji Chinchi Amarillo peppers. They have lots of fruity flavor and some heat)

1 onion, chopped into chunks

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon each of whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds, and caraway seeds

3 cloves of garlic

A generous drizzle of olive oil

  1. I spread the peppers on a baking dish, in a single layer and roast them in the oven until they are soft. Once they are cool, I peel off the pepper part and scoop away the seeds. I save the peppers for the harissa and give the seeds to the chickens. I guess most recipes would caution you to wear gloves, too. I don’t, but my fingers tingle for a day or so, and I usually manage to rub my eyes and regret it.
  2. Next I toast the seeds – I heat up a dry cast-iron pan and sprinkle the caraway, cumin, and coriander in it, until they smell fragrant. Then I let them cool and I grind them in my grain grinder. You could also crush them in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, if you have such an appliance – if I didn’t have any of these options, I would just add them to the food processor first and give them a little whizz!
  3. Once all the peppers are de-seeded, I put them in the food processor with the onion chunks, the toasted, ground spices, the garlic cloves, and the lime juice and blend it up while drizzling in an unspecified amount of olive oil. Just a nice drizzle.
  4. To store it, I scoop it into a jar and put a little layer of olive oil on top.

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