Instead of an underutilized veggie, today I'm highlighting what I think is an underutilized (at least around here) seasoning: harissa. Harissa is a spicy, brick-red chili paste originally from the Berber people of Tunisia but which is used all over the world. How you use harissa is a personal thing - in Tunisia, harissa is served at virtually every meal as part of an appetizer. It's also used as an ingredient in a meat (usually goat or lamb) or fish stew with vegetables, and as a flavoring for couscous. In the West it's eaten with pasta, in sandwiches and on pizza or else as a breakfast spread for tartines and rolls. The paste's taste can vary from one region to another, for example, in Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor.
You can find harissa in tubes, cans or bottles at many North African and Middle Eastern markets (I get mine at Sevan Bakery in Watertown, but I'm pretty sure they even carry it at Whole Foods now).
Today's recipe is a good introduction to harissa if you've never used it before. The harissa adds some nice spice and a deeper flavor to the otherwise plain tomato sauce used here. Lots of cilantro rounds it all out. This is also a good dish for people who aren't crazy about plain ol' baked or poached fish . . . you get all the benefits of eating fish without any fishy taste, whatsoever. Serve this with fresh Syrian bread to mop up the good sauce. This dish will take you under 20 minutes to prepare, counter to table. Enjoy!
Poached Cod In Spicy Tomato Sauce (adapted from The Half Hour Cook by Jenni Fleetwood)2 1/2 c. Tomato sauce 1 t. Harissa (or more to taste - start with a little and add more - I usually use a tablespoon but that's pretty hot) 1/2 c. Chopped fresh cilantro 1 lb. Cod fillets, cut into chunks Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the tomato sauce with the harissa and cilantro in a large saucepan or medium-sized Dutch oven. Add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from heat.
Add the fish to the hot sauce and return to the heat. Bring the sauce to a boil again, the reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, adding more harissa if necessary. Serve hot or warm. Serves 4.
Adapted from The Half Hour Cook by Jenni Fleetwood.