There is real pride in bringing out a huge casserole dish filled with piping hot, wholesome and nourishing food for the family. It is always a joy to see people’s faces light up as the lid is whisked away to reveal this colourful tagine-like stew. I suppose that is one of the great joys in life – bringing together family or friends and sharing in something wonderful.
Harissa is a wonder ingredient, plain and simple. It is often associated with Moroccan cuisine, but to tell the truth, I don’t know enough about food (yet) to be able to tell you the exact origins of this dish. They’re probably made up. I can only say it’s based on a meal I had one new years’ some time ago which has been tweaked and changed a little to get it bang on. The rose harissa provides smoky undertones to the chickpeas with its trademark spicy kick – perfectly complementing the salty sourness of the preserved lemons.
I often serve this with a cool bulgar wheat tabbouleh (recipe incoming), but if you’re looking for something even lighter over the summer months, it works well with cauliflower rice. Simply take a cauliflower, clean it up and wack it into a blender – blitzing until it reaches a rice-like consistency. Stir in some roasted peanuts and nigella seeds if feeling really fancy, if not, plain works just fine!
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 tins chickpeas, washed and drained
2 large-ish aubergines, diced into one inch cubes
1/2 jar pickled lemons
2 large tbsp rose harissa
3 cloves garlic
1 pint vegetable stock (low salt preferable)
Place the aubergine chunks into a roasting tin and drizzle over some olive oil. Mix well to ensure they are covered before shoving them in the oven at around 200C. Leave for 15 minutes to get on with the onions.
Heat a little oil in a large saucepan and add the onions – fry for around 10 minutes, until they are softened and start to colour. Add one tablespoon of harissa and cover. Leave to sweat for another five minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks.
Come back to the aubergines – remove from the oven and stir around, before putting them back in for another 10-15 minutes. They should be well done – once they’ve finished cooking, leave on the side to cool for later.
Add the chickpeas to the onion, along with the garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the harissa, the pickled lemons and cover with the vegetable stock. Mix well and bring to a low simmer, after ten minutes or so, add the aubergine chunks and their oil. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for around an hour (or longer – an hour and a half is ideal). Check occasionally to ensure the stew isn’t drying out and taste to see if more harissa is required. In this time, get on with your sides – work up your cauliflower rice or tabbouleh.
After an hour or so has passed, the stew should have reduced down and be reasonably thick. The chickpeas should be soft and tender. Call everyone together in preparation for your masterpiece and serve your hard work with a ladle and a smile.