Wednesday, March 26, 2008

just in case you're sick of winter

Monday, March 10, 2008

reverse-engineering a lebanese dish

Mark and I got back from a trip to South Africa yesterday (proper post on that to come). Despite the 17-hour flight, I'm feeling remarkably not very jet lagged, so I was looking forward to cooking tonight. While in Cape Town, we ate at a Lebanese restaurant and had a dish that even Mark had never had: the menu called it potato harra, and it consisted of cauliflower and potatoes--fried or roasted, I wasn't sure--with a spicy, brothy sauce full of lemon and garlic. If Lebanese cooking has a "holy trinity" of flavors, lemon and garlic have got to be two of them. (I'm not sure about the third. Parsley, maybe? Mint? Tomatoes? Chickpeas?)

Anyway, we loved it, and I vowed to re-create it at home. I cut cauliflower and potatoes into bite-sized pieces, tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and set them in a pan to roast at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I chopped up a lot of garlic--just keep peeling those cloves until you start to get a bit scared--and mixed it up with some olive oil, smoked paprika and a little cayenne, and let that all sit while the veggies roast. Then I poured that over the partially roasted veggies (I think the garlic would burn if it was in there for the full half hour), tossed it to coat, sprinkled some panko bread crumbs over the top, and roasted for about 15 minutes more.

I also took a few liberties with the original. I wanted there to be some protein so this could be a one-dish dinner type of thing, so at the end, I mixed in some chickpeas along with the lemon juice (and a little veggie broth to adjust the consistency). And I thought it needed a little extra zing, so I added some chopped preserved lemon. Oh, and some snipped chives (because, well, I had them on hand, although parsley or cilantro would probably make more sense). And I served it with quinoa (also very protein-rich).

Because of my last-minute additions, the panko didn't stay crunchy, of course, after getting all mixed in, but that was OK because it ended up thickening the sauce just a bit.

The verdict? The flavors were right, I think, but the veggies didn't get as browned and crispy. I think maybe they were fried in the original. I think I could still get away with roasting, just with a bigger pan. I think things don't get as browned when the pan is crowded. So it was a different dish, but a keeper in its own right. We loved the added dimension of the preserved lemon - sort of a Moroccan twist. Arab fusion, if you will. :)