Friday, January 24, 2014

Harissa Salmon with Lemony Herbed Couscous

Although it seems hard for me to imagine (as I shiver every time the temperature drops into the low 40s), I spent my college years in Minnesota. And for the most part, I stomached the arctic cold with good grace. I pulled on my long underwear, and layers upon layers, and trundled to class and library and work and coffeeshop without too much complaint. But there came a point — usually around late January/early February — when I was just done. Tired of being bundled into countless layers, tired of the fact that the very air itself would hurt my face. It felt personal, it felt painful, and I just wanted it to stop already.

These days, I live a somewhat more temperate existence, where the winds never bite into your skin and crush your soul. But culinarily, I go through a similar winter fatigue. This time of year, I eat my root vegetables, my kale, my roasted squash. And then I eat them again. And after a while, it can feel a bit tired and monotonous, a whole lot of muddy wintery brown, and I just want it to stop already.

When I hit my winter weather fatigue in Minnesota, I would usually take that as a sign to strip off my layers and go swimming (indoors, of course), to easily move without the weight of long johns, surrounded by welcoming warmth. And when I hit my winter culinary fatigue here in Oregon, I take it as a sign to put away my roasted squash and root vegetables, and surround myself with excitingly bright flavors. Like piles of fresh herbs and lemon juice. Like spicy North African harissa paste and floral saffron. Like this recipe.

This dish is like a bright shaft of sunlight in these heavy winter days. Salmon is rubbed with an exciting, fragrant (yet ridiculously easy) marinade, then simply baked and flaked atop a lemony, herb-packed couscous. It cuts through the heavy layers of winter roots, lets you move through warm, inviting flavors that you've missed for too long. Because even though long-cooked, stick-to-your-ribs meals do a fine job of fortifying you through the long slog of gray and brown, it's nice to be reminded that the bright and sunny world is still out there.

Harissa Salmon with Lemony Herbed Couscous

adapted from Lizzie Kamenetzky's Great British Bake Off: Winter Kitchen
serves 4-5

2 tablespoons harissa paste (this North African spice paste can usually be found at Middle Eastern markets and well-stocked grocery stores — they recommend rose harissa, which I cleverly faked with some regular old from-the-tube harissa combined with some dried rose petals)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly bashed in a mortar and pestle
salt and oil as needed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 pound salmon fillet
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed to finish
2 cups Israeli couscous
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
hefty pinch saffron
several large handfuls herbs, roughly chopped (parsley, cilantro, mint, scallions)

In a small bowl, mix together the harissa, coriander seeds, and half the lemon zest (reserve the remaining zest and juice). If your harissa is particularly thick, you can drizzle in some oil to make it spreadable.

Lay the salmon fillet out on a baking sheet, and gently spread the harissa mixture over it. Let it marinate at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Bake the salmon until it just barely begins to flake (or think about flaking), ~10 minutes or so, depending upon thickness. Remove, and let sit for a few minutes.

While the salmon is baking, prepare the couscous. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a medium pot, then add the couscous and stir for a minute to toast. Add the broth and saffron (and additional salt if your broth isn't terribly salty), and raise the heat to a boil. Lower until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, and cook, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, ~10 minutes.

When the couscous is done, stir in the reserved lemon zest and juice, and the fresh herbs. Add an additional drizzle of olive oil if needed to moiston, and salt to taste. Turn out onto a serving platter or individual plates, and top with the salmon, flaked.


  1. This looks terrific! Love the ratio of herbs to couscous. Have you ever made your own harissa? I've tried a few. My favorite recipe comes from Claudia Roden's 'New Book of Middle Eastern Food'.

  2. This salmon sounds amazing--so spicy and succulent. I love the idea of combining it with intense fresh herbs.