When I started cooking in college, you’d think I would start off with the basics…but if you’ve ever mentioned food around my family, you’d realize that it just isn’t our style. I dropped my meal plan to save money, and started filling the void with my dorm-room kitchen attempts. Back then, I needed Uber and Zipcars to get around (picture this: Nashville’s roads/public transit are actually less developed than Atlanta’s) and I needed to move quickly to get back to class. Or whatever else I was up to…
The closest market was about twelve minutes from campus–it was kind of like Sweet Auburn with it’s micro shops and restaurants within. There’s a small international market there with an insane amount of merchandise–you just have to sift through it all. I I found a lot of new ingredients, and once I found Harissa, you could say I got a little obsessed. See, Morocco is another one of my top travel destinations, and I love spices. Adding sriracha to everything started to make it boring, so it was time for a new chili paste; it was a match made in heaven. I messed around with the first jar, then started looking for recipes to make it in my dorm–but it took several tries to even get close. It’s gotten a lot easier, so now I usually make some two- or three times per year to get my fix.
Flash forward to 2019, and I’m hungry, but groceries are running low (again) and I just learned that there was no more salt in the house. No. More. SALT.
Alarms started going off, smoke was rising from the vents, sparks were flying…OK none of that really happened–I just had to figure something out. I had few tablespoons of my latest batch of harissa in the fridge, and thought about making it “duel” with another sauce that could compensate for lack of salt: pesto. We had a bunch of sad sunflower seeds (thankfully pre-shelled) sitting in the pantry, and they were actually coated with salt–almost too much. My mind started doing it’s usual nonsense once I saw cheese, and BAM. Pesto.
I decided to serve the pesto “raw”, but I used the last of my harissa as the seasoning on the chicken (plus a few extra spices). This batch wasn’t spicy at all, but I did manage to get some deep roasted pepper flavors, so I can’t complain. It was still a little cold to grill at the time, so I tried to make it on the stove, but quickly realized how long it can take to cook bone-in chicken on the stove. I had to move it from the stove, to the oven, and finally to the broiler to get it cooked. Annoying–but ultimately worth it.
So, who won this “duel” of sauces? I did.
2 Bone-In Chicken Thighs
2 Red Bell Peppers, roasted and peeled
4 Carrots, sliced thinly
6 Cloves of Garlic, roasted and minced
1 Dried Guajillo Chili, seeded
2 Dried Arbol Chilies, seeded
4 Cups Saled Sunflower Kernels
1 Cup Parmesan, shaved
1 Tbs Capers
1 Lemon, juiced and zested
3 Sprigs of Basil, sliced thinly
1 Sprig of Oregano, sliced thinly
1/2 Cup Parsley, minced
2 Green onions, sliced thinly
1 Tbs Cumin
1 Tbs Coriander
2 Tbs Paprika
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Dried Mint
1 Clove, crushed
2 Tbs Maple Syrup
Salt & Pepper to taste
- Combine roasted bell peppers, dried chilies, and half of the garlic in a food processor. Add spices, lemon juice, then puree. Finish with olive oil, and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Salt the chicken on all sides, then sear on medium high. Coat the chicken in with harissa, then transfer to the oven. Once the chicken is fully cooked, turn on the broiler until the surface is slightly charred. Remove from the oven, and set aside.
- Place the sliced carrots on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, and paprika, then place under the broiler. Remove once they char, and let cool.
- Combine sunflower kernels, cheese, capers, basil, oregano, lemon zest, and remaining garlic in a food processor. Pulse carefully until a thick paste forms, and add olive oil, salt, and pepper at the end.
- Plate and serve.