Sunday, May 4, 2008

Traditional dress

Hey there, pals.

We have had a busy few days. My Mom and Margaret are here with us now and we have been making tracks all over. But yesterday, we were only down the street at the International Food Tasting here in Jacksonville.

Food festivals, and festivals with food are like a carnival on to themselves. If there is anything better than smiling people gathered around, coexisting, why, even socializing, joined in the pursuit of experiencing some new food while simultaneously giving to charity, then I don't know it. It is as if a perfect opportunity has been created for sharing all we have been given, in every sense.

Now, I presented a bit of Moroccan/ Tunisian food, which is a thing I am able to do because I read everything I can and then, I cook everything I can. This does not mean I am Moroccan. (though, it would be nice to visit). I am not sure how I might have been presumed to be a Moroccan citizen (was it the crock pot? my rattan napkin holder?) but somehow, before I even knew what was happening, this Anglo-Irish kid from Westchester was roped into coming to the International mass in Jacksonville next week. "Just wear your traditional dress and you will carry your flag..." a perky women chirped at Margaret and I. For a moment, I stood there confused but smiling and nodding (a habit I learned in my far-away land). One thing always leads to another when people get on a roll of sorts in their own thoughts, I learned that on the soil of my birth also. Oh, I wished the Dashing Host had been there, I know how he would have enjoyed the moment.

I do not wish to disappoint but I am from Westchester County, New York: My traditional dress is pearls, a gold button sweater, and Ferragamo heels. My flag is red, white, and blue. The only tangines and harissa in my native place were from Williams-Sonona during a cooking fad. I am afraid I can only present myself as what I am: A card-carrying member of the bows-on-pumps tradition, an interested student of the world in general, and a girl with only one flag. Oh, and I make some pretty mean Moroccan food. So, I will be there with my flag, my Chanel sweater, and my Gimlet in my tumbler: an accurate representation of a Westchester-ite in her traditional costume at an international festival. I cannot wait.

It was a pleasure to meet so many interested eaters and I am looking forward to seeing many of you right back here.

Tomato and Red Pepper Stew (or Salsa) with Harissa
Serves 6
Adapted from Food and Wine, May, 2008

We presented the recipe below almost as a salsa with za'atar pitas. It occurs to me now that I would be happy to serve this as a reinvented salsa, warm or cold. When Food and Wine published this recipe, it called for poaching eggs in the sauce for brunch. You could. But I like mine best cooked down to almost a ragu consistency.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon harissa
2 tablespoon tomato paste
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Zest of one lemon
Pitas or crusty bread, for serving

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and bell pepper, season with salt and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the paprika and coriander and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the harissa and tomato paste and cook over low heat for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices and simmer over low heat until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes or up to 40 for a very thick sauce. Stir in the parsley, cilantro, and lemon and season with salt.

Serve with warmed pitas or crusty bread.

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