Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Green Harissa and Mussels

While I was in San Antonio most recently, on my last night there I ventured down to Southtown to a little restaurant called Feast. Southtown is a neighborhood just south of the bustling riverwalk-and-Alamo downtown, an art driven bohemian type community on the cusp of the King William historic district. Back in high school I used to go there with friends for the First Friday art festivals and these days it's in slightly better shape and houses some of my favorite San Antonio restaurants one of which, Feast, is tucked into a renovated house decorated inside like a Miami nightclub. You can read more about this restaurant, including it's eclectic decor, in the latest Texas Monthly here, but one of the absolute favorite things we ordered, and almost overlooked, were the Green Harissa Mussels which were also described in the article as one of the best dishes on the menu. My goodness, were these delicious. We were sopping up every last drop with our bread, unable to let a single bit of the broth go to waste.
All that was left before we grabbed some bread and dug in
And in typical me fashion, I wondered if I could recreate this dish with just the vague menu description of "white wine/cream/green harissa" listed. Well the green harissa was going to be the biggest challenge, but while googling recipes for it I discovered that it is actually another name for Zhoug, a Middle Eastern salsa/condiment. Like a pesto almost and I'm certainly no stranger to pesto. I found a recipe online from Ana Sortun, chef at my favorite Boston restaurant, Oleana, and made my own little adaptations, let it sit for a day or so and then basically threw it all into the mussel broth. And clearly this was a success. Seriously, I was licking the container and having to restrain myself from just gobbling up the whole thing every time I went into the fridge to get something else during the time I let it marinate. The best part though was that while the green harissa was perfection with the mussels, I could see it with so many other things too. Brushed over fish or meats, roasted with some veggies, tossed with some couscous. Even mixed with a broth for a soup in a similar fashion to the mussels. And even better is that without cheese, it's the healthiest "pesto" yet.
Green Harissa (Zhoug)
adapted from Ana Sortun's F&W recipe
1 serrano pepper, deveined and seeds removed
1 c. cilantro
1 c. spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. sherry vinegar
2 Tbl. roasted pepitas
2 Tbl. roasted almonds
1/4 c. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine first 9 ingredients in a food processor. Drizzle in olive oil. Taste for salt and pepper.

Mussels in White Wine Green Harissa Cream Sauce
2 lbs. PEI mussels- cleaned and debearded
1 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. green harissa
2 Tbl. butter or olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a deep, heavy pot add in butter and mussels and let warm for a minute or 2 over medium heat. To that, add the white wine, cream and harissa and toss together. Cover and let cook at medium high heat until mussel shells are opened- approx 5 minutes.

2. Drain and save the broth. Divide mussels into bowls and pour a little broth over. Serve with a hot, crusty baguette.

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