I know that in these last weeks before our move I really have no business adding more items to our pantry, but I couldn’t help myself. I kept hearing and reading about harissa, and when I spotted this little jar at Formaggio Essex recently I had to pick it up. This North African chile paste is most commonly described as “fiery” and I’m telling you, that’s no joke. But the burn is the best kind of burn, sharp and complex, a welcome bit of kick when added to a dish or served alongside.

Dinner:  March 20, 2008

I had a beautiful piece of halibut that I wanted to cook for dinner last night, but none of my usual preparations were really sending me. I remembered that little jar of harissa and decided this would be a great time to put it to use. I put together a quick marinade for the fish, a combination of harissa, ground coriander, cumin and fenugreek, a bit of salt, fresh lemon juice and olive oil, which I poured over the halibut about half an hour before cooking it (I removed most of it before adding the fish to the pan so it wouldn’t burn). We had one Meyer lemon lingering in the citrus basket, so I chopped it up and combined it with some chopped sundried tomatoes and oil-cured olives, picked flat-leaf parsley (mint would have been great, too), salt and olive oil to make a quick relish to serve on top of the fish. I served it all on a bed of couscous and pine nuts, a nice neutral counterpoint to the zippy flavors of the fish and lemon-olive relish. Mike passed but I couldn’t resist adding a little more harissa to my plate, dabbing a bit of it on random forkfuls of my fish and couscous. It was lovely, and a welcome bit of heat on a blustery night.

My first date with harissa was such a roaring success that I couldn’t wait for our next encounter. My office is closed today and though I have plans to meet Mike in the city for lunch, a girl’s gotta have breakfast, right? Rye toast, a couple of fried eggs, and harissa, oh yes – my lips are still tingling. I think I’m in love.

(Happy Purim, Happy Easter, Happy weekend, everyone!)

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