My first experiment with harissa went a bit wrong, because I hadn't realised quite how spicy it was. It looked like an innocent tomato-based sauce, so I upended half a jar into my casserole, and spent the rest of the evening trying to bring it down to an edible level by adding increasing quantities of cream and yoghurt. I won't be making that mistake again. I was, however, sufficiently enamoured with the taste that I really wanted to do it again (just, better).
Then Terra Rossa sent me a tub of intriguing cracked green wheat, known as freekeh (pronounced 'free-kah') to sample, along with a Jordanian spice mix called baharat, and I knew I had the makings of a middle eastern feast.
Freekeh has a nutty flavour, and baharat is a sweet spicy mixture, so cooking the two together makes for a subtly flavoured side dish. The texture of the freekeh was a bit more robust than you'd get from, say, bulgar wheat (which is about the closest I had eaten before) and it felt like a balanced part of the meal, rather than just "something" to mop up the juices from the vegetables.
And diluting a small amount of harissa paste with tomato and cream made for a wonderful, flavourful sauce which I think will quickly become a staple of my kitchen. In particular, I think the heat is perfectly complemented by a huge helping of fresh mint leaves straight from the garden.
Note: anyone who can't find baharat locally might be interested to know that the Terra Rossa blend contains ground coriander, dill, galangal, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, dried lemon, and caraway. Quite a mixture! But although that's the order on the packet, with this dish I felt the dominant flavours (the ones that came out above even the harissa) were the cinnamon, ginger, and allspice - so in a pinch you could spice up your freekeh with a few staples from your pantry.
Harissa & Mint Roasted Vegetables
For the vegetables:
1 butternut squash
1 aubergine (eggplant)
2 courgettes (zucchini)
1 red bell pepper
2 small red onions
100g (3.5oz) baby plum tomatoes
2tbsp olive oil
200ml (7fl.oz) tomato passata
2tsp harissa paste
a large handful of fresh mint leaves
3tbsp thick cream or yoghurt
For the freekeh:
2tbsp olive oil
200g (7oz) freekeh
30g (1oz) pine nuts
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
- Peel and chop the butternut squash into small chunks.
- Chop the aubergine, courgette, red pepper, and onions. Slice the tomatoes in half.
- Heat the olive oil in the oven in a large roasting tin.
- Add the butternut squash, toss to coat in the oil, and return to the oven for 20 minutes until starting to soften.
- Next, prepare the freekeh. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the grains for a couple of minutes.
- Add boiling water to cover the grains, stir in the baharat, and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, without stirring.
- Meanwhile, add the courgette, aubergine, peppers and onion to the roasting tin with the softened butternut squash. Toss to coat in oil, and return to the oven.
- After 15 minutes, remove the vegetables from the oven, and stir through the tomato passata, harissa paste, and (roughly chopped) mint leaves. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
- Toast the pine nuts for 3-4 minutes in a dry frying pan.
- Add the tomatoes to the vegetables in the oven, for just a couple of minutes before you're ready to eat.
- Drain the freekeh, stir through the pine nuts, and serve.
- Stir the cream or yoghurt into the vegetables just before serving.