My trip to Seattle to work on the Cody nutrition video series proved to be a pretty ragin’ food fest. The pre- and post-production days, along with nights off gave me some time to explore the city, meet the amazing locals, and sample, er, quite a bit of fantastic food. You know, for research purposes.
When I travel, I put wish-list restaurants in two groups: the vegetarian restaurant, and the non-vegetarian restaurant that has enough veg-friendly options to be worth the visit. As much as I find a lot of inspiration at both of these types of establishments, they can also have their drawbacks. First, the vegetarian restaurant, bless them, can tend towards the dated, you know what I mean? Overly-sauced, overly-cheesed, overly seitan-ed out places that offer satisfying, but not very health conscious dishes reminiscent of 1997. Yea. The second place is great if you want to eat out with meat-loving friends (and thank goodness most American restaurants recognize that vegetarians don’t always travel in packs!). The issue is that these places don’t recognize that we also need substance. There are plenty of creative veggie-centric plates, but nothing that is going to really fill me up! When I was in Seattle, I rarely saw a single bean, lentil or a cube of tempeh on a menu. If I was lucky enough to see a whole grain, it was a sprinkle on top like a garnish. I feel like I’m always compromising somehow, which sounds ridiculously gripe-y, but maybe this is my PSA to say that both types of restaurants are so close to getting it so right that it is worth putting it out there in hopes that someone hears my cry.
One of my most favourite dishes at a hip and trendy non-vegetarian spot was a roasted carrot, fennel, harissa and yogurt combination, that was as strong in its presentation as it was in flavour. The plate was literally piled with roasted carrots and fennel – a stellar sight for ravenous eyes – bathed in the silkiest scarlet sauce, all nestled in a generous swathe of thick yogurt. It was kind of thing I could barely wait to dig into (I had to share with the rest of my table…rough!), and sad to see the server remove the licked-clean plate. BUT! Where was the rest of it? I realize that this was intended to be a side dish, but there were literally no other options on the menu unless I was to join my table mates and dig into a roast chicken.
Being back home in Copenhagen in the thick of winter, I felt the urge to bring a little light and spice to the table. Fondly recalling the jolt to my taste buds that carrot dish conferred, I decided to make my own version that included a simple upgrade with lentils that any vegetarian would be happy to call dinner. Or anyone for that matter.
Harissa is a north African chili pepper paste traditionally added to meat and fish stews, and to spice up couscous, but I think it’s delish with all the things, especially winter veg that could use a major flavour injection. If you have not made your own harissa before, it’s a relatively quick and painless process that can give your food a serious wake-up. It is bright, bold, spicy, smoky and just plain yummmm. It keeps well in the fridge and a delightful thing to have on hand when you’re not really sure what to do with that pumpkin (slather it in harissa and roast it!) or that tempeh (marinate it in harissa and fry it!) or that kale (dress it in harissa and stuff your face!). If you can’t wait another second to make this dish, you can also buy pre-made harissa paste at ethnic grocers and gourmet markets. It’s sold in small tins, tubes, or jars – just look for versions without any preservatives or unpronounce-ables (but it goes without saying that the homemade kind is best, obvi).
You can really use any kind of chili to make harissa, and I suggest a variety to achieve a deep and complex flavour. Some of the ones I chose (based solely on the fact that I already had them in my pantry) were smoked whole ñoras peppers, guajillo, and bird’s eye for some serious heat. Chipotle would be very tasty (it’s a good idea to have at least one smoked pepper variety), or de arbol, jalepeno, ancho…you get the idea. You can also make harissa with crushed chili flakes if that is all you have, just make sure that you balance it out with perhaps more tomato paste and roasted bell peppers. I believe that you should be able to eat a small spoonful of pure harissa without blowing your head off. You’re after something spicy, but also rich and savoury, so strike that balance as you’re choosing the ingredients.
It’s Getting Hot in Here
Chili peppers are a fantastic food to add to your diet, especially in the colder months, as they actually heat us from the inside out! Chilies contain an active substance called capsaicin that significantly increase thermogenesis (a.k.a. heat production), in our bodies. This is precisely why eating spicy food makes us turn read. break a sweat, and can even aid weight loss, as thermogenesis literally burns calories! These burned calories translate into warmth in the cells and therefore heat in the body. This is the exact same process that takes place in hibernating animals to stay warm.
Other foods that have this thermogenic effect are horseradish, mustard, cinnamon, fennel seed, garlic, ginger, ginseng, and turmeric.
I love this kind of dish from a construction standpoint. The first bites deliver the big bold flavours of the roasted veg dripping in smoky sauce alone, and then as you begin to go further and dig around, everything kind of melds together, creating mouthfuls with a little bit of this, a little bit of that. The lentils start hanging out with the lemon-spiked yogurt giving the smooth consistency some tooth and texture, which the veggies then become coated in. The harissa drippings work their way into all the nooks and crannies, and the mint pokes you every so often with a “hello, my name is FRESH!” It hits all the texture notes, the flavour notes, and you’re left feeling, well, really satisfied. Not to mention, full.
This dish is totally vegan aside from the yogurt, which could even be replaced with a cashew yogurt, like the one in my cookbook, or another plant-based one. You can even leave it out all together if you like, but it’s a great team player with the other elements. The lentils could easily be replaced by the beans of your choice, and the veg you can change up according to what you have available. You can even make the harissa dressing for any manner of green salad and serve it over raw things too. This dish would also be really tasty with some toasted nuts or seeds sprinkled on top.
Makes about 1 ¼ cup / 300ml
25g dried chilies of your choice (choose a few types and include one smoked and one spicy variety, if possible)
2 red bell peppers
6oz / 170g can tomato paste (1 small can)
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. caraway seeds
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
a couple pinches sea salt
cold-pressed olive oil, to cover
1. Soak the dried chilies in just-boiled water for about 30 minutes until softened. Remove stems and seeds (wear gloves if you’re handling really spicy ones). Save soaking liquid.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Rub the bell peppers with a little coconut oil and place on a line baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes until blistered and turning black in spots. Remove from oven and place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool for 15 minutes (this process will help steam the peppers making them really easy to peel). Once cool enough to handle, simply slip the skins off of the peppers, remove the stem and seeds, and the discard them. Put flesh aside.
3. While the peppers are roasting, toast the spices in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind until powder-y.
4. Peel garlic and place in the food processor. Pulse to mince. Add the soaked dried chilies, roasted red peppers, ground spices, tomato paste, lemon juice, and salt. Blend on high until relatively smooth (add some of the chilli soaking liquid to thin, if desired). Season with salt to taste and add more lemon juice if desired.
5. Transfer harissa to a clean glass jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil – this will help prevent it from spoiling. Cover with a tightly-sealed lid and store in the fridge for up to one month.
Roasted Carrot and Fennel with Harissa, Black Lentils and Yogurt
1 pound / 500g carrots
1 pound / 500g fennel (about 2 medium bulbs)
2 medium red onions
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
a couple pinches salt and pepper
1 cup / 250ml Greek-style yogurt (preferably goat or sheep)
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of sea salt
1 cup / 225g black lentils (Du Puy or French lentils would also work), soaked if possible
½ tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
a handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
flaky sea salt, to garnish
¼ cup cold-pressed olive oil
1-4 tsp. harissa paste, to your taste (I used 3 tsp.)
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ Tbsp. maple syrup
pinch sea salt, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C. Scrub carrots well and slice them in half lengthwise (if they are relatively large, slice them in quarters lengthwise). Wash fennel and slice lengthwise into thin sections. Peel and slice red onion into eights. Place carrots on a baking sheet and rub with a little coconut oil. Place fennel and red onion on a separate baking sheet and rub with a little coconut oil. Place in the oven to roast for 25-35 minutes until tender and charred around the edges (the fennel and onions may take longer than the carrots, so remove carrots first if necessary). Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper.
2. While the vegetables are roasting, cook the lentils. Wash lentils well, drain and rinse until water runs clear. Place in medium saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook covered for about 15 minutes. Add about a half teaspoon of salt, stir and continue to simmer covered, until the lentils are tender, about 5 more minutes. Drain and rinse. Stir in olive oil and season to taste.
3. While the lentils are cooking, whisk the dressing ingredients together. Start with a teaspoon of harissa paste and add more to suit your taste. The dressing should be spicy, but palatable. Add the roasted vegetables and fold to coat well.
4. Combine the lemon zest and yogurt.
5. To assemble, divide the yogurt and lentils among four plates. Pile the vegetables on top, sprinkle with flaky salt, mint, and drizzle any remaining dressing over the top. Enjoy.
Note: If you are in Copenhagen and looking for high-quality organic spices for this recipe or any others, check out ASA spice shop in Torvehallerne! They are simply. the. best.
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Oh yea, Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone’s 2016 has started off on the right foot.
Here are a couple things I’ve been up to:
Cody app and I have collaborated to create an online video series with 21 episodes geared towards anyone who wants to learn how to cook healthy, plant-based meals! I have been wanting to put together an educational + cooking video program for so long now, and I am very proud of how this has turned out. I hope you check it out.
We’ve added four brand-new and exclusive recipes to the My New Roots app. These recipes are specifically for cleansing and detoxification, so if you’re January hasn’t been as “clean” as you would have liked, maybe this will give you some inspiration! Update your app or download it now and get this recipe for Nori wraps with Cleansing Broccoli Pesto along with three other delicious and detoxifying delights (use the filter button to select “Super Clean 2016”) Check out the recipes here.
And I was invited to speak on Jessica Murnane’s podcast, The Things that Freaked my Week. It was fun. Listen here.
BIG love and best wishes for your year ahead.
xo, Sarah B
Show me your harissa on Instagram: #MNRharissa