Sunday, 20 March 2011

MY FAVOURITE THINGS

An occasional series featuring favourite ingredients and kitchen kit....
Belazu Rose Harissa
"Small but sexy...... Made to liven cousous, naturally, but that warm spicy perfumed cocktail of chilli, coriander, caraway, garlic,olive oil and rose petals, will lift many a more mundane creation." (Matthew Fort, The Guardian)


Words cannot truly express how much I love this piquant, fiery paste, a traditional ingredient in North African tagines, and a great condiment. Belazu Rose Harissa is the best, and, like Nigella Lawson, I would love to receive a year's supply, gift-wrapped and delivered straight to my kitchen. On my two holidays to Ireland, I have always packed the Harissa: because I cannot live without it and it comes out with most meals. Other fans include my friends and regular dinner companions, Jacky and Nick, who often ask for the condiment, if it is not already on the table.


Made with chillis and over forty spices, including rose petals, Belazu Rose Harissa has a very special flavour and aroma. Unlike other brands, such as Le Phare du Cap Bon, which my mum used to buy in a tube (beware: it is very, very strong), the hot kick of this harissa is tempered by the rose petals, which also give it a special sweetness. It is the perfect accompaniment to lamb, grilled, roasted, tagine-d or barbecued, but I also serve it with chicken, and meaty fish like tuna. A quick supper is two chicken breasts, flattened between clingfilm, and flash-fried with cumin, garlic and a dollop of harissa. In the Ottolenghi Cookbook, there is a recipe for harissa roast chicken, simple but utterly delicious. You need nothing more than a green salad to go with it. And stir a generous dollop of harissa into cream fraiche or Greek yoghurt (or a mixture of both), and you have an instant dip, or milder condiment. I like to stir it into roasted vegetables or couscous, to give some 'back heat' to a dish.

I first tried harissa in the early 1980s when my mother (an excellent and imaginative cook) started moving away from the traditional cordon bleu-type cookery to more adventurous 'world' cuisine. As part of the fundraising for the dreadful famine in Ethopia in 1984, Oxfam brought out a cookbook, compiled from contributions by the general public. A favourite recipe, and one which I still make, was West African Groundnut Curry. My mother used to make this quite often as a lunch dish, as it can be easily stretched for feed many, served with fluffy couscous and a sauce made from the most fiery harissa. The sauce for the curry is made with peanut butter, and the harissa cuts into the smooth, sweet-saltiness of the peanut butter perfectly.


Because it does not last long in this house, I always order two jars when I do my monthly Ocado shop.


You can purchase Belazu Rose Harissa in Waitrose, or online direct from Belazu
 

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