February was Vegan Month and nearly all the food magazines I received that month made that perfectly clear. Was I miffed? Did I feel picked upon and goaded into eschewing meat and dairy?
No sir/ma'am, I did not. Check my previous post about Hot and Hot Fish Club and you'll quickly recall I was overly gushing about how freaking awesome vegetables taste when they're pristine, in season, and cooked right.
Cooking Light, one of my favorite monthly rags, had a bushel of opportunities for me to get my veggie freak on, and so far, this recipe outshines them all. Both the carrots and the lentils get a spicy kick from creole seasoning and the green harissa, garlicky and screaming with heat, takes it to another level. This is a dish that stands apart, on its own, without the depth or bulk of meat. You'll walk away from it surprised, satisfied, and a little sweaty ...
I've always loved roasted carrots - caramelizing in the hot oven, drizzled with olive oil and spicy Cajun rub - sure thing! But lentils? Meh, earthy and solid, they're a somewhat satisfactory accompaniment, but the addition of the Cajun spice made me put away any misgivings.
But the star of the show, hands down, was the green harissa sauce. Full of garlic, fresh herbs and heat from jalapeño peppers, I found myself dolloping a bit more than was probably safe (it's kinda hot) for me, but I couldn't stop!
Harissa is a Tunisian hot chile pepper paste traditionally made with roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, garlic paste and various herbs and spices. It's a lovely little condiment that packs a huge punch. This rendition is a riff created by Chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, a husband and wife team who are taking over the vegan world with several cookbooks and the highly anticipated V-Street - a restaurant focusing on vegan small plates inspired by global street food.
I cannot stop eating this harissa. I'm slathering it on everything: my eggs at breakfast, a buritto from a reputable hole-in-the-wall last night (whose hot sauce can stand alone but doesn't have the depth this harissa does). I'll have to admit I'm not familiar with Rich and Kate but this sauce alone has made me want to buy all their cookbooks and take a quick road-trip to Philadelphia to be at V-Street on opening day.
Seriously, make this harissa and don't blame me if you're dribbling it on grilled corn-on-the-cob or dunking grilled ribe eye in it. I cannot be held responsible.
But do try it with the roasted carrots and lentils as well, if you're thinking about taking a break from meat for one meal. You won't regret it.
Roasted Carrots with Lentils and Green Harissa
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4 - 6
5 T. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups sweet yellow onion
1 T. minced garlic
3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups uncooked black lentils, rinsed (any lentils will do, but I liked the bold snap of the bright orange carrots against the black lentils)
2 T. plus 2 t. Cajun seasoning, divided (I used Slap Ya' Mama! seasoning)
2 pounds large carrots
2 cups cilantro leaves
2 T. rice wine vinegar
1 t. salt
1 t. sugar
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves
2 jalapeño peppers (if you like less heat, seed the peppers - I left mine in :))
Preheat the oven to 400-degrees
Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and dump in 1/2 cup onion and minced garlic; cook for 5 minutes or until golden. Add the stock, lentils and 2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
Combine the carrots, 2 tablespoons of oil and the remaining 2 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning, tossing them well to coat. Arrange the carrots in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400-degrees for 30 minutes or until tender.
Combine the remaining 1 cup onion, remaining oil, cilantro and remaining ingredients in a blender; process until smooth.
Place the lentils on a serving dish, arrange the carrots on top and serve with harissa.