Why Not? Add a Spoonful . . .

Brothy Pinto Beans with Harissa and Parsley

of Harissa to my plain bowl of brothy beans for lunch? Why not do the same a few days later with chickpeas and top them with garlicky sautéed mustard greens and feta? This was such a success that I taught it in a recent class and I’ve noted the recipe below. I use this wonderful smoky, spicy paste in this greens and bulgur dish and have been reaching for it this winter to enliven eggs, bowls of rice and now beans. There are lots of recipes online to make your own Harissa and my favorite store-bought brand is Mustapha’s.

Why not? has become my new teaching refrain as well.  It of course goes hand in hand with the cook-with-what-you-have approach of substituting and adapting on the fly and is a catchy enough reminder to not be bound word for word to recipes and thus make cooking more fun, less stressful and more satisfying.

harissa mustaphas

I’ve had a couple of successes with the why not? approach lately. I added lots of sliced, raw leeks instead of a little onion to a gratin of root vegetables. Not sure why I’d never done that but it gave the gratin a lush, silky sweetness. I filled burritos with pinto beans and sautéed chard and roasted tomatoes. I made the Cauliflower Pasta Risotto that I wrote about here with Brussels Sprouts and bacon. And last night I thinned down heavy whipping cream with milk since the cream was so thick I thought it might not whip into a nice light topping for my son’s birthday chocolate pie. It worked beautifully! Sometimes the why not? approach is less successful as in the time I added some homemade vanilla extract (vodka plus vanilla beans) from a very fresh batch of extract to heavy cream that I whipped for some dessert and the cream tasted sour from the vodka that had not yet really been infused by the vanilla beans.

Have you had moments like these? Successful or less so? I’d love to hear about them.

Chickpea Soup with Sautéed Mustard Greens and Harissa

This is something I’ve been eating this winter for lunch with a variety of toppings or additions. It came about one day when all I had ready to eat was cooked chickpeas in their broth, a jar of Harissa in the fridge (and a few other things but they were not suitable for lunch). I heated up the chickpeas, added a little Harissa and a good drizzle of olive oil and lunch was had, with a piece of bread, I think. It was warm and nourishing and lovely. I like the addition of quickly sautéed mustard greens (or any leafy greens) and a little feta. This is just a basic template and another quick, cheap, delicious way to use those glorious chickpeas or any kind of bean you have around already cooked.

Serves 2

3 cups cooked chickpeas (or other beans of your choice)
2 – 2 ½ cups chickpea cooking liquid
½ – 1 teaspoon Harissa (depending on what spice level you like and your brand of Harissa)
About 4 cups washed mustard greens, cut into ribbons
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
Olive oil
Crumbled feta for serving
Salt and Pepper

Heat the chickpeas and their liquid in a saucepan. Sauté the mustard greens with the garlic in a bit of olive oil until just wilted and lightly salt. This should only take about 3-5 minutes.

When ready to serve, stir the Harissa into the chickpeas and portion the soup into bowls. Top with the mustard greens and a bit of feta. Drizzle on a little more good olive oil and grind of pepper and enjoy!

New Favorite One-pot Meal (+ an Egg)

Lots of chopped greens, onions, garlic, harissa and a bit of bulgur turn into a heavenly pot of goodness after an hour of gentle steaming. 

A friend of mine raved about this dish at a dinner party the other night. It took me a week to finally make it and then I made it twice in a row–the second time to take to another dinner party where it was happily devoured. It’s a humble, somewhat subtle dish that is perfectly suited to any climate that has an abundance of hearty greens (chard, kale, mustards, etc. ). And I can’t wait to play around with other spices and toppings. But for now here is more or less the way it was conveyed to me and I believe it originated with Paula Wolfert, so no wonder it’s a keeper. Please report back and tell me how it works for you and if you adapt it.

After its hour-long steam it’s ready for lemon, a fried (or poached) egg, more harissa and Greek yogurt.

Moroccan Bulgur with Greens
–inspired by Paula Wolfert 

This takes time to cook but putting it together is quick and just involves a bunch of chopping. It is delicious with a fried or poached egg and extra harissa and some Greek yogurt. And if you like lamb, it’s a perfect accompaniment to lamb in any form. Harissa is a Tunisia hot chili sauce whose main ingredients are piri piri (type of chili pepper), Serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers and garlic, coriander, red chili powder, and caraway as well as some vegetable or olive oil. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya and Algeria but recently also making inroads into Morocco according to Moroccan food expert Paula Wolfert. I particularly like the brand Mustafa’s Moroccan Harissa which is very flavorful and not too crazy spicy.

1 large onion, finely diced
1 leek, carefully washes, sliced in half lengthwise and then finely chopped (or more onion if you don’t have any leeks)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch de-stemmed and chopped chard
1 cup bulgur
3 tablespoons. olive oil
2-3 teaspoons (or more to taste) harissa (see headnote) I used 4-5 teaspoons but with other brands that might be too much.
Black pepper, freshly ground
Sea or kosher salt (at least 1 teaspoon)
Lemon juice
More harissa and Greek yogurt for serving

Add everything but the lemon juice to a deep heavy, lidded pot. (Le Creuset is great). Mix it all together with a spoon or your hands. Add 1/2 cup water and mix thoroughly again.

Take several paper towels and lay them over the bulgur mixture, tucking them gently into the sides. Cover the pot and cook over very low heat for about an hour or so. Resist the urge to remove the lid since the steam generated is a critical factor. I typically start with high heat to get things going, then, when I sense the presence of steam and can start to smell the dish, reduce it significantly.

When it is finished, remove the paper towels, taste and, if necessary, continue to cook with the paper towels intact again.

Squeeze a lemon over the finished bulgur and top with more harissa and Greek yogurt or a poached or fried egg.

It makes me hungry just writing this caption. The lemon juice is important to brighten everything up a bit but if you don’t have a lemon extra harissa will probably do.