Friday 20 August 2010

I've been wanting to get some harissa a Tunisian spice ever since watching Allegra Mc Evedy make harira Moroccan soup on the cookery channel using it. I loaded up with spices including a little boxed tube of harissa in London a couple of weeks ago and then subsequently left them in a friend's flat!! I was so annoyed with myself. I popped to see her on Wednesday night because she wasn't very well. We watched what we thought would be a happy DVD because it had a Christmas tree and family gathering on the cover..... but it was really miserable so we ended up talking and then laughing. I haven't laughed so much in's the best medicine and she feels a lot better too.

So last night I had my harissa to experiment with. I was making our traditional family chili concarni the way mum used to make. She used lean minced beef from the butcher. She would buy a nice piece of meat and then ask him to mince it. Saute onions, brown the meat, add a can of chopped tomatoes, a little chili powder, some cooked red kidney beans and a little water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the meat is cooked and then serve with plain boiled rice. Simple.

The only difference is that I make it using garlic, fresh chili and tomato puree as well as canned ones, and it is much hotter than mum's version. Then we serve it with natural yoghurt and Persian salad Tehrani.

For myself I made a meat free alternative with my favourite green lentils, some of the red kidney beans, the garlic and I tried out my precious new harissa paste. Yummy. It's a mixture of Piri piri chili peppers, Serrano pepper, olive oil, cumin and coriander.

We've been to Tunisia in North Africa twice, it's a beautiful country and the people are lovely, very friendly and warm. But it's a poor country, and sadly there are a lot of beggars which is really hard to see. You just want to help everyone, especially the children and the old people. There seems to be such a cultural gap between the traditional and modern world, too. You can walk from a stretch of a beach with women sunbathing in tiny little bikini's to another with ladies fully clothed from head to toe in black fabric bathing in the sea. On the beach close by will be the rest of the family sitting by a makeshift tent, a samovar bubbling over a charcoal fire and men relaxed smoking their hookah pipes. Just lovely....

We made close friends with one the waiters in the hotel, Salim. He invited us to meet his wife and children, such cute little babies. We thought we would go to a traditional house but he took us to a beautiful marina with lights reflecting over the sea. We returned a couple of years later and he was still at the same hotel and we renewed our friendship. 'A' loved the local honey that we would eat with creamy rice pudding for breakfast or spread with thick layers of butter onto freshly baked bread. A couple of months after the holiday a big brown cardboard box arrived. It was from Salim. When we opened it, it was packed with huge pieces of comb honey and dates. A really strange thing to send but he knew what we loved. I wonder what Salim is doing now? I hope that one day we'll be able to return again and find him and his family and that they are well and happy.

In the mean time I think I'll be cooking up a lot of batches of harira soup, especially in the depths of winter. That's if I can find a recipe. I'll let you know how I get on.

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