Three Bites: Rockin’ Moroccan

Marilyn HawkesApril 26, 2020
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Photography by Angelina Aragon
Photography by Angelina Aragon

Electrifying to the eye and tongue, scarlet-red harissa puts some North African swerve on Valley menus. 

Prep & Pastry

7025 E. Via Soleri Dr., Scottsdale
It’s hard to think of a fusion restaurant in the Valley that hasn’t dabbled in harissa, the flaming-hot red pepper condiment that’s basically North Africa’s answer to chimichurri – always tasty, but never done the same way at any two restaurants. Prep & Pastry’s harissa shakshouka ($10.50, pictured) is a full-flavored feast that combines a pair of sunny side up eggs floating in a roasted red pepper harissa sauce brightened with feta cheese and marinated olives. When making the sauce, cooks roast peppers, onions and fresh tomatoes to add smoky notes – harissa and tomatoes are a perfect marriage of heat and acid – then augments the slurry with San Marzano tomatoes for a little sweetness and garlic for bold flavor. Served in a sizzling skillet, the dish includes three pieces of tangy, toasted sourdough bread to mop up the whole umami experience.

FLINT by Baltaire

2425 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
At FLINT by Baltaire, executive chef Chris Mayo uses harissa throughout the menu, but the spicy harissa short rib hummus ($15) is the restaurant’s don’t-miss dish. To make the harissa, Mayo roasts red bell and jalapeño peppers on the wood broiler to infuse smoke before puréeing them with lemon juice, olive oil, roasted garlic and other spices into a sauce-like consistency. Harissa is just a garnish on this knockout dish, but the powerhouse sauce pulls together all the elements, from the red wine-braised, impossibly tender short rib plopped in the middle of the creamy, tahini-laden hummus to the house-made pita bread laced with Greek yogurt. “The dish is earthy and smoky, complex and spicy,” Mayo says. “But not too spicy.”

FEZ Restaurant & Bar

105 W. Portland St., Phoenix
When Fez opened 15 years ago, the restaurant started with a Mediterranean-heavy menu. It’s changed a bit over time, but one thing has remained the same, says co-owner Tom Jetland: “People always like spicy food.” Accordingly, Fez offers spicy harissa fries ($6.95 full basket; $2.95 side order). The crispy potatoes are cooked in canola oil and then tossed immediately with a house-blended dry harissa mix of guajillo and pasilla chiles and chile de árbol tickled with smoked paprika, ginger, black pepper, garlic and cinnamon. The harissa adheres to the oil and lends a high-octane tingle to the fries. After eating a generous handful served with garlic aioli, your senses will perk up. “It’s a nice slow burn,” Jetland says.

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