By Melissa D’Arabian
I first tasted harissa when I was 19 and traveled on a lone adventure to Tunisia after spending a semester abroad in France. I browsed the open markets, with their appealing drapey white cotton clothing.
I was particularly drawn to the fragrant spice section of the market, which beckoned me over with its unfamiliar, dazzling aromas. I bought as many small pouches of mystery spices that my student budget could afford. My favorite was harissa, a mix of chiles and warm spices like coriander, cumin and paprika.
Thirty years later, harissa is fairly easy to find in the United States, either in a well-stocked neighborhood supermarket or online. If you like spicy food at all, it’s a worthy purchase. It’s available in both paste and dry powdered form, and once it’s on your shelf, you’ll find hundreds of uses for it. You can mix harissa into hummus or yogurt for a quick dip, add a spoonful to stews to deepen the flavor, rub meat for grilling and brush it on roasted or sauteed vegetables or even on buttered toast for a tasty garlic bread-like indulgence. Another idea: Add harissa to salad dressings for international flair.
Today’s recipe for North African Carrot and Chickpea Salad pairs lightly sweet carrots with the warmth of harissa, and the result is balanced and not overly spicy. (Feel free to add more or less according to your tastes.)
Chickpeas add heft and protein, so you could turn this side dish into a vegetarian main. Herbs keep the dish bright and fresh. Purchasing the carrots preshredded is an excellent weekday time-saver, but even if you start with whole carrots, the entire dish can be thrown together in minutes.