First published in November 2007, this updated pantry ingredient post features new photos, links, and a few tweaks to the recipe. Spicy harissa gives this stew a smoky kick; use more or less, to your taste. If you have a tagine, a Moroccan cooking or serving pot with a conical top, serve this in traditional North African style.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
Ilsa didn't go to Rick's Café Americain for the food. In fact, nobody went to Rick's for the food. Drinking, yes. Smoking, of course. Gambling and trading? You betcha. A rousing chorus of La Marseillaise? Absolutely!
But food? Not a bite, and what a shame, because Rick's, the place to see and be seen in the classic film, Casablanca, surely might have had wonderful food, including couscous and tagines with spicy homemade harissa.
Harissa (also spelled harisa, which is more true to its pronounciation: hah REE sah) is the most important condiment used in Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian cooking, yet it is made from chile peppers -- often guajillo, New Mexico, ancho, cayenne or chile de arbol -- which were introduced to the region by explorers returning from the Americas.
From the Arabic word for "to break into pieces," harissa is made by pounding hot chiles in a mortar and then adding salt and sometimes garlic, plus spices such as coriander, cumin, caraway, or fennel; our modern-day mortar, the food processor, makes quick work of what is traditionally a lengthy preparation done by the women of a family.
Harissa is sold in tubes, cans or jars. Tunisian brands are considered the best, but it's easy to make your own. You can make it hot or mild, depending on the chile pepper you choose. In the tube, or covered with olive oil in an airtight container, harissa will keep in the refrigerator for a month or more.
In Morocco, harissa often is served apart from the main dish, for diners to add to their own taste. In Tunisia and Algeria, it's an ingredient in the cooking. In my cooking, harissa often stands in for cayenne pepper, so I always cook it right in the dish.
Rick and Ilsa, and even Captain Renault, would have loved it.
Vegan squash or pumpkin stew with chickpeas and carrots (marak dar marhzin)
A marak is a vegetable version of a tagine. Adapt this recipe to whatever root vegetables you prefer. Serves 6.
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups water
1 lb butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp harissa, or more to taste
3/4 cup raisins or dried cherries
3 tsp honey
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges, for serving
Parsley leaves, for garnish
Make this stew in a Dutch oven or large tagine (with a diffuser, or a tagine that is safe for stove top cooking).
In your pan over low heat, heat the oil and add onions. Cook gently for 5 minutes, then add garlic, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute until the paste becomes slightly aromatic.
Add carrots and water, stir, and cover the pot. Cook on lowest heat for 10 minutes.
Add squash or pumpkin, sweet potato, chickpeas, harissa, raisins and honey, plus 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper. Stir everything together. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20-30 minutes.
Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley leaves, and serve with couscous and lemon wedges to squeeze over the vegetables.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Spiced lentils with squash and raisins, from The Perfect Pantry
Roasted chickpeas with raisins, parsley and mint, from The Perfect Pantry
Slow cooker chicken tagine with chickpeas and root vegetables, from Andrea Meyers
Chickpea salad with roasted red pepper and harissa, from Healthy Green Kitchen
Chickpea and chorizo stew, from Souvlaki For The Soul
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