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Archive for the ‘North African’ Category

Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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Sweet, simple, no-bake version of Gazelle's Horns cookies. Two cups of tea served in coffee cups I found cute. Yes, I enjoy drinking tea from coffee mugs. Go figure.

A heart filled with desire for

sweetness and tender souls

must not waste itself with unsavory matters

—-Rumi

The above is quoted from a ghazal poem by Rumi (the famous Persian poet).

The words above speak to me especially now, in light of recent events and changes in my life. More and more I’m learning to stand up for myself, to listen to that inner voice of wisdom and peace. To feel more comfortable and at ease in my own skin, and in this world. To set boundaries and let go of relationships, situations and thought patterns that no longer serve me or the greater good.

You can play around with the shape of these cookies. They're quite malleable. Kinda like Play-Doh.

After all, Yoga  and many religious faiths teach us about non-violence and forgiveness, but we sometimes forget that we can be violent and unforgiving to ourselves, even if only mentally or in our own hearts. So in my desire for only sweetness and tender souls, I’m letting go of unsavory matters whenever possible. I’m giving mental violence the boot and allowing my heart to open a bit more to love and forgiveness.

With spiritual reflection and sweetness on my mind, some cookies sounded about right. Ha, I’m easily pleased! Today’s cookies are Gazelle’s Horns, popular especially during Ramadan.

Ramadam kareem!

Speaking of Ramadan, a belated Ramadan Kareem to  everyone who is observing the fast.  I admire you so very much.  I’ve so been meaning to do a Ramadan shout-out since the holiday started, but kept waiting for that perfect moment. Then I realized that there is no perfect moment, at least not always. So a big, respectful acknowledgment to all of you out there who are fasting.Your mental and physical strength are simply amazing.

Try this simple cookie recipe some evening. You’re sure to enjoy its ease of prep. This is based on a recipe posted by Nisrine of Dinners and Dreams who in turn based her on a recipe presented by this site, which is in French.  I’ve had these cookies before during travels in Syria, and also here in NYC. They’re quiet satisfying and delicious. Imagine my delight when I learned they’re also gluten-free, and easily veganizable as well.

Did I mention they’re also no bake? Yes, indeed they are. There is another version that is baked–I’ll probably try that after the August heat has gone away, and report back then.

Isn't she lovely? A gazelle! One of my favorite animals, and super popular creature of myth and imagination in the Middle East. Poems and cookies are named after this animal. An exceedingly beautiful woman is sometimes nicknames a gazelle. How sweet! Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

And in case I got a bit too deep for you earlier with my musings, let’s not forget my sly sense of humor lives on, no matter what changes are afoot in my life. I have fun, maybe too much fun,  with the name of these cookies. Like I said, they’re known as Gazelle’s Horns. Sometimes I make a really lame, junior high joke and call these Horny Gazelle Cookies. Because I’m sophisticated like that, yanno.

No Bake Gazelle’s Horns Cookies

I used Bob’s Red Mill Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour in this recipe. Coconut oil was courtesy of Tropical Traditions.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond meal (ground, blanched almonds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mahlab (optional)
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter or non-dairy “butter” (like Earth Balance)
  • 5 Tablespoons of honey (or agave for vegan option)
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water (or rose water, if you prefer that taste)

1. In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, mahlab, cinnamon and salt. Mix. Get rid of any lumps in the almond meal by using a fork to break lumps up.

2. Stir in the wet ingredients: coconut oil, honey and orange blossom or rose water.

3. If the mixture is too wet to shape with your bare hands, add a bit more almond flour and/or chill the mixture for up to half an hour.

4. Shape into half moon-shaped cookies. From here, you can leave the shape as is, or make it into more of an elongated “S” shape to simulate a different gazelle’s horn shape.

5. Enjoy immediately with tea or coffee, or refrigerate.

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One pot lentil stew with chickpeas, spinach, carrots. My retreat Yogis loved it. It's easy to fix, and it tastes better after a day.

Today’s recipe is one of the very first I got good at cooking, back in my teendom days.  It’s simple, flavorful, and packed full of fiber, protein, iron, and B-vitamins, to name just a few. We’ve had some unseasonably cool days here recently, and settling down in the evening with a big bowl of this stew is oh-so-comforting.

My sister, Mona, left, and I head out for a day of sightseeing and Yoga, with lentil and chickpea stew waiting for us at home upon our return.

Good news: this dish tastes better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two. Love that! This stew was a big hit at the recent Yoga retreat I hosted, and I promised to post the recipe. I also promised my college student sis, Mona, that I’d post this so she can make it up ahead of time and have it on hand for her busy weeks of school and work. So here goes:

One Pot Lentil Stew and Chickpea Stew

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 medium onion

2 large carrots

3-5 large garlic cloves

3 teaspoons each of cardamom and coriander

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 scant teaspoon cumin

1 scant teaspoon allspice

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

1 ½ cups lentils (brown or yellow preferred)

4-5 cups filtered water

1 28 ounce can of peeled, whole tomatoes

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

14-16 ounces cooked chickpeas (either canned or pre-cooked)

2 cups fresh spinach

Directions:

1.       Heat olive oil over a low flame in a large soup pot. As the oil heats, peel and chop the onions and carrots.

2.       Raise the heat of the pan to medium. Add the onions and carrots and stir well to begin cooking them. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, until softened.

3.       Lower the flame to low. Add the garlic and spices and stir well. When the spices’ aroma begins to bloom (in about 30-60 seconds), remove the pan from heat immediately and turn off the heat. Cook for 30 seconds to one minute more.

4.       Add the lentils, canned tomatoes, cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and water to the pot. Break up the tomatoes and stir everything together really well.

5.       Return pot to burner, and bring to a boil. Once stew is boiling, drop the flame down to low and cook for 20-30 minutes more, or until both carrots and lentils are tender.

6.       Add the pre-cooked chickpeas. (If using canned, be sure to strain the liquid and rinse the chickpeas).

7.       To finish, turn off the flame and add the spinach. The residual heat will wilt the spinach, leaving it a bright green color without overcooking it.

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Just a little tahini-red pepper-cumin dressing that I whipped up in a blender, but it's an oh-so-tasty way to dress a salad.

We’ve talked before about how I eat a lot of salads. Love them! So dressing them properly and deliciously is of the utmost importance. Dressing a salad isn’t so different from dressing one’s self, I suppose. Now I’m much more foodie that fashionista any day, but there are indeed parallels when it comes to this dressing business.

Dressing a salad with a tasty, inviting option reminds me of donning a gorgeous outfit paired with the perfect accessories. Sometimes the accessories even steal the show and garner the most compliments!

As for accessorizing my salads, I avoid the bottled stuff unless I’m in a situation where there’s no practical way to make my own dressing. Even the best bottled dressings don’t hold a candle to a good, homemade dressing, IMHO. Fighting words? Maybe!

Check out the accessories I chose to go with this outfit--gold heels and some fun bangles. Nope, wasn't going for the minimalist look that night at my friend's traditional Afghan wedding!

Yeah, dressings usually have fat, but can be good fat, especially in moderation and if the dressing motivates you to eat more salad and veggies. Here’s my latest salad dressing creation, with it’s brick-red color and the bold flavors of mellow tahini, sweet red pepper, and earthy cumin give it that Middle Eastern vibe I love so much. It has a hint of spice and a pleasant smokiness in the background.

Oh, and I even snuck in some super healthy flax seeds, which are great for, among other things, the skin and digestive system. Cuz I’m stealthy healthy like that ;-)!

You can bet we’ll be whipping up a batch of this brick red beauty this weekend at the Yoga retreat I’m hosting.

For now, mas-salama and shanti, ya’ll!

Tangy Tahini Red Pepper and Cumin Salad Dressing

In a blender, combine:

4 Tablespoons tahini paste

2 Tablespoons flax seeds

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional, but worthwhile, as it gives a subtle cheesy flavor

2 large garlic cloves

3 scallions, chopped, or 2 Tablespoons of onion, chopped

1 Tablespoon of paprika

1 teaspoon red pepper paste, or 1/4 of a fresh or roasted red bell pepper

1 teaspoon of cumin (more if you want!)

Squeeze of lemon (optional)

Water for blending

Salt and pepper to taste (optional–I found I didn’t need any!)

1. Put all ingredients except water into the blender. Add enough water so that everything can move around when the blender’s on. Add more water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.

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A rich, flavorful dish North African-inspired sweet potato Crockpot stew. This vegan dish takes help from the slow cooker and store-bought or a quick homemade harissa paste.While it's vegetarian (really vegan), you could easily add in meat, though it's plenty hearty and flavorful without any meat.

Inspiration to cook can come from near, far, or simply your pantry. Not far from where I live, there is a thriving neighborhood with many African immigrants. They come from different countries like Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali, to name a few. I noticed that on some of the restaurant menus, they have a stew made with peanut butter, herbs, meats, and vegetables, root vegetables in particular.

Such a stew sounded like a great idea, and I decided to make a sweet potato-based vegan stew of my own with harissa sauce and almond butter providing the flavoring. Harissa is a hot chile sauce made from crushed chilies, tomatoes and paprika, and herbs like coriander and caraway. So you see, I took a distinctly West African dish, put a North African spin on it (harissa is a common ingredient in the cuisines of North Africa), and used my American peanut-butter alternative to come up with something unique, healthy, and fun.

I served this stew with brown rice and a side of collard greens. It was a meal that was hearty without being heavy, and quite tasty.

Spicy North African Sweet Potato Stew

1-2 teaspoons neutral cooking oil of choice (I used coconut oil)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

4 grated garlic cloves

2 cups low sodium vegetable broth or stock

2/3 Cup almond butter

4 medium sweet potatoes in large chunks (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)

1 medium potato, diced (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)

2 Tablespoons Harissa paste (Don’t have? See Note below this recipe to make your own)

1 Tablespoon turmeric

2 teaspoons fenugreek

Pinch each of cinnamon and allspice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 can black beans, drained

Optional: garnish with herbs of choice. Some good options: cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, watercress.

Directions

1. In a small skillet or saucepan, gently warm coconut oil over a medium flame. Once oil is shimmery, add in onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Lower heat to low, then add in ginger and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes more. Turn off heat and remove pan from heat.

2. Place all ingredients except for black beans and herb garnish into the slow cooker. Stir thoroughly, making sure to break up any lumps in almond butter and harissa paste.

3. Cook on high for 4-6 hours, or low for 8 hours. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in black beans, and garnish with herbs, if using.

NOTE: If you don’t have harissa paste/sauce, whip up a simple version by blending one jarred bell red bell pepper (rinsed) and/or a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste with one tablespoon of paprika, a few chili flakes, and a few herbs. Toss in a pinch of whatever you have of the following: ground cumin, coriander, caraway, allspice, nutmeg, and blend.

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