Harissa Carrots with Shrimp and Polenta

This is one of those things I stumbled upon when trying to use up things that were hanging around my fridge and pantry. I remembered an Ottolenghi recipe for carrots with harissa that worked as an appetizer or snack in which he created a dip smeared over pita bread, and that inspired me to try using up some carrots that weren’t exactly fresh anymore in a new way, rather than just throwing them into soup. 

I asked myself, what would it take to make a complete meal from these haggard carrots? I spotted a bag of shrimp in my freezer, which of course I associated with grits, so I grabbed the polenta out of the cupboard and made dinner for two in less time than it would have taken to fetch takeout from a restaurant. 

This is a taste sensation, hitting the heat, salt, acid and sweet notes that make foodies swoon, much different from the usual humdrum roasted or boiled carrots that I so often fall back on as a side dish. It’s also highly adjustable. If you have kids to feed, downshift on the heat by using mild harissa, and bring the heat to the table in the form of your favorite hot sauce instead. Don’t like the bitterness of orange zest? Leave it out. It’s no big deal to adjust the flavor profile to your own preferences.

Harissa is a pepper sauce or paste from north Africa made from roasted sweet and red chili peppers. It’s used in a multitude of ways to flavor dishes. I keep a store bought version of the mild variety in my pantry for occasions when I want a quick flavor boost to all kinds of things—dips, pasta sauces, stews, soups, fish, meats or vegetables. It’s easy to make yourself. Check out the variety of recipes available on the magical internet if you’re interested.

The ratio of polenta to water is 1:4. In this recipe I use 1/2 cup (125 ml) polenta to 2 cups (500 ml) of stock to feed two people. 

Vegan substitutions — cashew ricotta for tzatziki and toasted pistachios for shrimp. Omit pecorino or use your favorite vegan parmesan.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil.
  • A couple of tablespoons of butter (Optional, but it does make the carrots taste a little better. Substitute more olive oil.)
  • 2 pounds (1 kilo) of carrots, peeled and cut into three-quarters of an inch pieces (2 cm).
  • 3 cups (750 ml) vegetable or chicken stock..
  • 1 ounce (20g) grated pecorino cheese.
  • Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, a tablespoon or two.
  • 1 orange. Zest it and juice half of it.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced. Some of this will go in the carrots and some with the shrimp.
  • 2 teaspoons of harissa paste, mild or hot. In the dish pictured I used mild Mina Harissa.
  • Lemon
  • 3/4 of a pound of shrimps, tail on. About 350-400g.
  • Sweet Hungarian paprika or hot smoked Spanish paprika.
  • 1/2 cup polenta.
  • Salt.
  • Pepper.
  • Tzatziki for garnish. Could substitute Greek yogurt, sour cream, or cashew ricotta. 

Make the Carrots

  1. Heat a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan or skillet with a lid over medium heat. Add carrots. Sauté for 5-6 minutes, stirring often until they’ve softened and taken on some color. 
  2. Add one cup (250 ml) stock and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the carrots are very soft and most of the liquid is gone.
  3. Transfer the carrots to a food processor.
  4. Add a teaspoon of salt and pulse until the carrots are turned into a course paste but not yet smooth.
  5. Allow to cool, then add orange zest & juice, garlic, harissa, lemon zest, salt & pepper. Stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Set aside.

Make Shrimp

  1. In the same pan you cooked the carrots heat a splash of olive oil. (Hint: don’t wash the pan. The stuff on the bottom from the carrots will add flavor to the shrimp).
  2. Add minced garlic, sizzling it for a few seconds.
  3. Throw in shrimp. Sprinkle with mild or smoked paprika, stir, and cook for about 2 minutes per side.

Make Polenta

Put 2 cups stock into a pot and bring to a boil. Add polenta, cover and cook for five minutes stirring occasionally, until thick and pulling away from sides of pot. Remove from heat, stir in pecorino, parsley, salt & pepper to taste. I used Bob’s Red Mill yellow polenta.

To Serve

Divide polenta between two wide bowls, top each with carrots and shrimp. Spoon over some store bought tzatziki and garnish with any remaining herbs.

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