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What with the announcement of a new Moroccan restaurant planned for Eugene, I knew I had to go buy some harissa at our local Middle East market, Pomegranates, to celebrate with a big pot of couscous. I don’t have anything against musty, dusty ethnic grocery stores with bottles of mysterious sticky rat-chewed-labeled substances that no one has bought in at least 10 years, and I patronize them frequently. But Pomegranates is a different game. Owned and run by Julie Lenox-Sharifi, this clean, bright little store has lines of products that are clearly lovingly hand-selected. It has dry goods from Lebanon, Israel, Spain and Italy, among other places, and a full line of Persian packaged goods, plus Middle East-inflected spices from abroad and domestic companies, sweets from a variety of places, and a nice selection of Middle East cookbooks. Offered for tasting when I went last week was Turkish delight, Persian tea, regional Italian olive oils at excellent prices, and a pomegranate vinegar highly recommended by the delightful Ms. Lenox-Sharifi.dscf6583.jpg

Now, on to the complainin’.

New Moroccan restaurant = good. The owner of Adam’$ Place running it = not $o good. When I look at a menu and see uninteresting dishes I can easily make at home with a few trendy geegaw garnishes and buzzwords ensuring price points that exclude academics from any more than an occasional evening out, I don’t have any interest in the place. Adam’s Place makes that mistake, and thus misses the opportunity to grab the market share for the university community.

But if the food is unusual, we’ll part with our coins. Moroccan food is always expensive, so that will keep the crowd in the economic bracket they seem to want, but I’m excited that the new restaurant is unusual enough to make US see the need to go out to eat there. I just really, really, really hope that the folks in charge will make good on their promise in the Register-Guard that it will aim to be authentic Moroccan, and not a mishmash of Middle Eastern cuisine “inspired” by the strong flavors of that huge, diverse area.

In any case, it will drum up an interest in Middle Eastern cooking, so I hope that Pomegranates will become more well-known and patronized in Eugene. So I’d advise you to get in on the action early. On March 15, at 6:00 pm, Ms. Lenox-Sharifi will be offering a Persian New Year (Na Rooz) cooking class at the fabulous kitchen in our local kitchen superstore, Hartwick’s. Call Hartwick’s at (541) 686-0126 for reservations. Classes fill up quickly and the price is great, so don’t hesitate if you’re interested.

At the market, I purchased Mustapha’s Moroccan harissa, highly recommended by Ms. Lenox-Sharifi, who also gave me her recipe for Carrot and Harissa Purée. This harissa is unusual in that it contains preserved lemons, and it isn’t nearly as spicy as other packaged harissas I’ve tried (e.g., the stuff in the tube they sell at Newman’s and Marché Provisions). If you try the recipe below and have a different harissa, please be sure to taste for spiciness and adjust accordingly.

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Moroccan Carrot Purée with Harissa

(adapted from Julie Lenox-Sharifi’s recipe)

I hate carrots. They are one of the only foods that I actively dislike, and the only vegetable. I’ve searched long and hard for a carrot recipe that I like. This is it. I can’t get enough of this stuff. The carrots are bright and spunky, their natural sweetness counteracted by the lemon and chile in the harissa, and made smooth by the olive oil base. I used half a bag of old, leftover grocery store carrots, but I’m sure it would be even more brilliant with fresh garden carrots, especially the varieties good for roasting, such as Atomic Red.

1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch slices

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on carrots before roasting

1 T. Mustapha’s Moroccan harissa (or substitute 1 t. other harissa plus 1 t. chopped preserved lemons or 1 t. lemon juice plus some zest), or to taste

1/4 t. cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place carrots and garlic in baking dish, and drizzle with some olive oil. Roast until you see some dark brown spots, about 30 minutes depending on the water content in the carrots.

Let carrots cool to warm, then process them with harissa, cumin, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pour in 1/3 cup of olive oil as you process. Adjust seasonings. Serve at room temperature on slices of baguette, crackers, pita bread. Also would work well as a side dish or as a stuffing.

Yield: about 2 cups.

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