Prelude to Valentine’s Day with Red Food: Harissa; and Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate


This Saturday, the weekend before the much loved/dreaded Valentine’s Day, my sister had a potluck with her work friends. As she is aware of my enthusiasm for potlucks, she invited Zoeya and me. The theme was Red Food. (Sidenote: this was not my first Red Food potluck). She made a delicious baked spaghetti and one of her friends brought an amazing red velvet, white chocolate and raspberry trifle – no beef, we asked. My contribution was a harissa-esque dip served over hummus, and a quinoa salad.

I tried to shape the harissa into a heart!

Here’s something spicy you can make for your lovah: harissa. I use the term “harissa” loosely – this was more of a dip than a sauce or paste, and I made it not-too-spicy lest there be wimpy tongues at the party, but honestly the heat could have been to be turned up a notch (next time!). The other silly thing I did was that after I blitzed it the first time I decided that in color it wasn’t red enough for a red food party so I added some tandoori masala thinking that spices were spices. Mistake! Although it still tasted good, it starting smelling distinctly Indian instead of a North African…so next time, paprika.

This is very versatile! Use as a dip, condiment on salads or sandwiches, or as a wet rub or part of a marinade. I served it over hummus.

Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomato Harissa

3 red peppers
heaping tsp each cumin and coriander seeds
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
5 cloves
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes (minus the several I ate)
heaping tsp paprika
salt & pepper
1/2 – 2 tbsp red pepper flakes, depending on how hot you want it (maybe a little less for a dip and more for a condiment or wet rub)
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat oven to 450° Roast the red peppers by placing them directly on the oven rack and roast until blacked, turning once. Remove to a glass bowl and cover to sweat them (so it will be easier to take the skins off). Once cool, remove stems, seeds, and skins.

In the meantime, in a dry skillet toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds and cloves. Grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process to a thick paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

I also made:

I had my Persephone Salad in mind, but was in the mood to make something with quinoa. I found this recipe for Quinoa, Fennel, and Pomegranate Salad online, which looked delicious, but I still wanted to make pomegranate vinaigrette so I combined the two!

Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

For the quinoa
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed (red if possible! I couldn’t find it so used tricolored)
olive oil
2 bulbs fennel, sliced (reserve fronds)
4 cloves garlic
tsp cumin seeds
tsp chili powder
handful fennel fronds (removed from stalk), chopped
handful cilantro, chopped
handful mint, chopped
1 head red leaf lettuce, chopped

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add quinoa, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, heat olive oil to medium high and saute fennel and garlic with salt & pepper until fennel is very tender. Add cumin seeds and chili powder and saute for another minute.

Toss warm quinoa with fennel, herbs, and lettuce (I just love tossing warm things with lettuce because it makes it super green and wilts it just slightly).

For the vinaigrette
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp honey
salt & pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

Whisk all together.

Toss quinoa and vinaigrette together, and top the whole thing with 1/4 cup or so pomegranate seeds

Someone enjoyed dinner (although she was more a fan of the spaghetti than the salad).

Zoeya’s favorite thing to say to me nowadays is “I am waiting patiently, but you are taking TOO LONG!”

Persephone Salad


Whenever my husband and his friends are putting dinner together, they always put me in charge of salad. I guess salad is a girly thing to make so I get it by default, but maybe it’s also because I can be artful in diving into the depths of the produce drawer and pantry and emerging with interesting salad ingredients and the means for a homemade vinaigrette.

As green salads are just as much about texture as they are about flavor, here is the formula: something fresh (possibly fruity!), something creamy, something crunchy. And this salad fits perfectly.

This particular salad concept is based on the Arugula, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (from where else, Food52, pretty much my favorite food resource on the web). I made it a couple years ago for Thanksgiving, and I’ve made variations on it ever since – including for Thanksgiving this year, and now for Zoeya’s holiday potluck.

The ingredients are very autumnal, but the pomegranate seeds like little ruby jewels look gorgeously Christmassy as well. This is not so much a recipe as a concept with lots of options (and I’m not going to be fussy with amounts). The only absolutely essential ingredient are the pomegranate seeds, which is what makes this so lovely and appropriate for the dark months.

Persephone Salad

For the salad:
greens, such as arugula, mesclun, spinach
a green apple or pear
seeds from half a pomegranate
blue cheese or goat cheese
walnuts, almonds, pecans, or pumpkin seeds (I used pumpkin seeds in this latest rendition, it’s a great options if you’re serving to people with nut allergies)

For the vinaigrette:
pomegranate molasses (instructions below) – this is your best option, but if you don’t have it you can use honey or jam or jelly. Maybe like that yummy lingonberry stuff they have at IKEA.
sherry or balsamic vinegar
olive oil or walnut oil
salt & pepper
a thinly sliced shallot, pickled in the vinegar, is nice

To make pomegranate molasses, take a small bottle of pomegranate juice and heat it slowly in a saucepan, stirring, until it is thick enough to coat a spoon. Be careful not to burn.

To assemble everything, just toss the greens and the apple or pear with some of the vinaigrette (enough to lightly coat, not to drench). Sprinkle all the rest of the ingredients on top, along with another drizzle of vinaigrette.

Romesco Sauce


I am in love with all things Spanish – gypsies, flamenco dancing, Moorish architecture, El Cid, tapas, Almodovar movies, Ojos de Brujo, depressing novels, Castellano as opposed to regular old Spanish. Spain is number one on my long list of places I’m dying to visit, and Shan has promised to take me one day.

Until then, I can pretend that I’m there by eating like I’m there. Romesco is a combination of so many quintessential Spanish ingredients: olive oil, roasted red peppers, almonds, sherry vinegar – I even put a drop of honey in mine for balance. It is a versatile sauce that is rich and bright at the same time, and goes on anything from seafood to veggies to a plain slice of bread.

Romesco Sauce

2 red peppers
handful of almonds, blanched and peeled
3/4 c olive oil, divided
1 head of garlic
1 slice bread (I used 1 whole wheat naan)
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
salt & pepper
1/4 c sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey

Roast the red peppers the usual way: 350° right on the grate, turning, until blackened. Peel, clean out the seeds and slice.

In a food processor, blitz the almonds until finely ground.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil on medium, and gently cook the garlic (alternately you could roast the garlic, but I was in a hurry and this was quicker). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to the food processor.

Tear the bread and fry in the same olive oil – you can turn the heat up a little. When browned, transfer to food processor. In same pan, saute the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Transfer everything to food processor and blitz.

Add sherry vinegar and honey and combine. Slowly add the rest of the olive oil and combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

I served this on top of braised paprika chicken thighs with a spinach salad. It made a nice big batch – I froze half and we used the leftover from the first half as a dip for veggies and pita bread.

I chose this as my best recipe in September :)

Tapenade, Take Two


A couple weeks ago, Shan took me to Restaurant Depot. He goes fairly often as he owns a Quiznos, but this was my first time. I was having lots of fun feeling like Jack in the Giant’s house, surrounded by bags of onions I could barely lift, gargantuan tins of tomatoes, mayonnaise tubs the size of Zoeya. Shan needed some stuff for the store but let me grab a couple things as well, so I chose a large bottle of sherry vinegar and enormous jars of olives and capers.

I went home to make tapenade to take to a barbecue at my sister’s house. It did not turn out well. I usually make tapenade from olives from the olive bar at Harris Teeter, but these olives were extremely briny so my tapenade turned out unbearably salty (how embarassing! This is why you never make something new for a party but I’m slow to follow advice). Only slightly daunted, I tried again, this time soaking my briny olives in water for a couple days in the fridge, and the result was much, much better. Delicious even.

The first time I used a food processor, and you can too if you don’t have my compulsion to pulse everything into oblivion. I needed to chop mine by hand if I wanted it to have any sort of texture, which I did the second time and it turned out very nicely.


3 c mixed olives
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
small handful basil, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil

If you are using extremely briny olives, soak in water and keep in the fridge for a day or two (otherwise skip this step). Pit and chop the olives and combine with capers, sherry vinegar, basil, and olive oil.

This is just a basic, basic recipe; you can dress it up by adding shallots, sundried tomatoes, roasted red pepper, different herbs, etc. Perfect as a dip or spread for all your summer barbecues.

I ate leftovers for breakfast – a whole wheat bagel toasted and spread with cream cheese then heaped with tapenade. Heavenly!