Friday, August 29, 2014

Harissa Lamb Burger Lettuce Wraps with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce and Mint Lemon Couscous

I have a couple more ideas for that Mina Harissa Giveaway: Lamb Burger Wraps and Harissa Spiced Cucumber Yogurt Sauce. Hot and refreshing all in one bite! Try it this Labor Day. 

Big bold flavors are important when you're creating dishes that are healthy, low carb and nonetheless delicious. My first non-breakfast experiment with Mina Harissa was this grilled lamb burger recipe. It was utterly satisfying and it definitely won’t be the last time I make it.

When holidays come up that involve grilling, I'm always on the lookout for ways to shake things up a bit from the standard hamburger and hot dogs. So when I was considering how to use the Mina Harissa, I immediately thought burgers. And because I'm off white bread right now AND it's been so incredibly warm in sunny San Diego, I thought lettuce wraps. Normally, with lettuce wraps, recipes call for pan frying the crumbled meat. But I got to thinking about how much I enjoy burgers "protein-style", aka, sans buns, so I decided to keep them a burger shape and serve these up in large lettuce leaves. It was definitely a winning combination!

Use buns if you must but wrapping them in crisp, cold lettuce (green leaf, butter or even iceberg) is a nice twist and quite refreshing, especially with this hot weather we’re having. And if you feel that lamb is too “gamey” for you, try swapping out the lamb altogether with ground pork, turkey or chicken. It should be equally delicious!

Twenty minutes before you’re ready to grill, remove meat from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.

YIELD: 6 burgers


For Yogurt Sauce
½ cup Greek yogurt 
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive, plus more to taste
juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste 
½ cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped (about ½ cup)
1-2 teaspoons Mina Harissa Red Pepper Sauce, or to taste

For couscous
1 (14.5 ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole wheat couscous
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste 

For Lamb burgers
1 pound lean ground lamb
½ pound lean ground pork
2 - 3 tablespoons Mina Harissa Red Pepper Sauce, or to taste
2 ½ teaspoons minced fresh mint
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

6 large green or red lettuce leaves 
Additional chopped cucumbers for serving, optional


1. Make the yogurt sauce: Stir together the yogurt, ½ teaspoon olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the cucumber until coated well. Swirl in the harissa. Top off with a drizzle of olive oil (optional). Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
2. Make the couscous: Place the couscous into a medium bowl. Pour the chicken broth into a medium saucepan and bring to a rapid bowl; remove from heat and pour over the couscous. Stir well to combine. Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap and set aside for 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, uncover and fluff with a fork. Squeeze in the lemon juice and fold in the mint. Add salt and pepper to taste. Recover and set aside until ready to serve.
3. Make the burgers: Heat grill to medium-high. Break meats apart in a large bowl. Add harissa, mint, garlic, zest, salt and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Divide meat into 6 equal portions and shape into elongated burgers.
Pour remaining 1 teaspoon of olive into a small dish or mug. Dip a wadded up paper towel into the oil and use grill tongs to coat the grill grates with the oil. Place patties on grill and cook 3-4 minutes per side with the grill open or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees on an instant read meat thermometer. Remove cooked patties to a platter. 
4. To serve: Place a burger on a lettuce leaf, top with a tablespoon or two of the harissa yogurt sauce. Serve with ½ cup of mint couscous on the side. Garnish with additional cucumber, if desired.

Until next time, friends. Have a fun, safe Labor Day weekend!
xo, Ani

P.S. Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a 3-pack of Mina Harissa of your very own! Read about it here.

Disclosure: I received two jars of Mina Harissa from Casablanca Foods for editorial consideration. No other compensation was given. Recipes and opinions, as always with product reviews, are my own and not influenced by the brand owner.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Moroccan Spiced Grilled Lamb Rib Chops + {GIVEAWAY} 3-pack Mina Harissa Pepper Sauces

Move over salsa! There’s a new player in my pantry and it’s called Mina Harissa, a spicy red pepper sauce that goes just as well with eggs as it does veggies and meat. {Sponsored post}

Remember earlier this summer when I posted my recipe for Harissa Chicken Wings? The tweet got favorited and retweeted by @harissa which prompted me to check into what they were all about. Some tweets back and forth later and I received two jars — the spicy red and the spicy green varieties — of Mina Harissa to try directly from Mina herself.

Having just used the harissa I picked up at my local ethnic market, I was expecting it to be similar in texture and consistency. The harissa I used before was dark red and had a thick, tomato paste consistency. In doing research for that chicken wing post, I found out that traditionally, this is what harissa is.

When I received my jars of Mina Harissa, I was taken aback over how beautifully vibrant colored the sauces are. The red and green sauces are ever-so-slightly chunky, salsa-like. I learned that Mina wanted to make Moroccan flavors more accessible to Americans used to their vinegary hot sauce so she played with the basic recipe adding extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and garlic. The red Mina Harissa is made from just 6 ingredients: red chili peppers, red bell peppers, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and salt. The green variety is made with 7: green chili peppers, green bell peppers, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, cumin and salt. That’s it. No fillers. No preservatives. And I gotta say, this stuff is freaking tasty.

So far, I’ve used it in scrambled eggs, added a few drops on top of fried eggs, mixed it into a yogurt dipping sauce, combined some to a basic salad dressing, and used it as the major flavor component in marinade for pork, beef, and lamb. If I wasn’t such a heat wimp, I might even be tempted to eat it straight with chips. Alas, wimp here and these sauces have a definite kick. But mixed in with other ingredients, this is gonna replace a lot of the items on my condiment shelf.

Today I’m posting this lamb rib chops recipe. Later this week, I’ll share my recipe for Lamb Burger Wraps that I served with Lemony Mint Couscous. Equally delicious!

Be sure to enter the giveaway after the recipe so you can try out these sauces yourself!

Have your butcher French the chops for you (clean the tips of the bone, essentially creating lamb “lollipops”). Plan ahead when making these. The lamb needs a minimum of 6 hours to marinate, preferably overnight. This marinade is equally delicious on pork chops which I made the same day I put the lamb chops to marinate (I left the chops to marinate about 4 hours). 

Serves 2 


6 lamb rib chops 
1 heaping tablespoon Mina Harissa Spicy Red Pepper Sauce 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
juice and zest of ½ a lemon 
1 garlic clove, pressed 
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley 
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint 
1 teaspoon salt 

1. Wash and pat dry chops. Place in a shallow dish. 
2. Whisk together the harissa, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, herbs and salt in a small bowl until combined well. 
3. Divide half the marinade between the 6 chops using a spoon to drizzle over the entire surface of each. Flip chops and spoon the remaining marinade over them. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. 
4. When ready to grill, remove dish with chops to countertop and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat a grill to 400 - 450 degrees Fahrenheit. When hot, use a paper towel soaked with a little oil and grill tongs to rub down the grates. Place chops on grill and grill with the lid open for 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a side salad and couscous. 

Mina Harissa Giveaway! 

To enter the contest to win a 3-pack of Mina Harissa sauces, follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below. You must use the Rafflecopter widget to be eligible to win. You can earn up to 12 entries today and receive an additional entry once per day if you tweet about the giveaway. You have two weeks to enter. Contest ends at 12:00 a.m. on September 9. Winner will be announced here and on my other social media platforms. Winner will have 48 hours to respond via email to claim their prize. If no response is made, a new winner will be announced. Open to U.S. Residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck everyone! I can’t wait to see what you make with these tasty, versatile sauces!
Until next time…

Disclosure: I received two jars of Mina Harissa from Casablanca Foods for editorial consideration. Casablanca Foods is also supplying a Mina Harissa 3-pack for the reader giveaway. I was not otherwise compensated for the recipe development or this post and as always, all opinions are my own and were not influenced by Casablanca Foods.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hemingway Daiquiri: A cocktail and a prayer for a friend …

I received difficult news Friday night that I’ve not been able to shake all weekend.

Just before 11pm, an email alert popped up on my phone from an old friend of eight years. I met Phyllis through a brief eHarmony encounter I had with someone. My relationship with him didn’t last but he introduced me to her, his best friend, and she and I started an email friendship. In the beginning we wrote often, but like most things, it eventually tapered off considerably. We did occasionally keep in touch over the years, even meeting up a few times for a meal and/or a movie. 

The first and second times I met Phyllis, the eHarmony gentleman was with us. We had just started spending time together and he wanted us to meet. We met for a movie the three of us and I was instantly drawn to her warmth and curiosity. By the third or fourth time we met up, eHarmony gentleman and I were no longer in contact and it was her daughter, K, who drove her and accompanied us. You see, my new friend had muscular dystrophy and was scooter-bound and on a ventilator. The three of us talked, laughed, connected and I knew these two women would continue to be in my life in one way or another.

I clicked on the email, excited to see her name in my inbox again as it had been a very long time. But it wasn’t from her. It was from K apologizing for telling me sad news in an email.

My friend Phyllis had passed. A month ago. And K was apologizing for just now getting around to telling me because it has been a difficult task for her, this retelling the final days of her mother’s life over and over.

I got through the email slowly, letting the words sink in. Upon finishing, without hesitation, I hit the call button to speak with K directly. I needed to hear her voice; hear how she was doing as memories of losing my auntie and the emotional mess I was in for days, weeks, months after came flooding back. We talked for nearly an hour, going over the difficulties Phyllis had gone through this last year and the obstacles now before K.

My heart is heavy. Now I know why they have been so much on my mind all summer. I didn’t tell K this but I dreamt of her mother last month. It was a good dream. I had meant to call or email after but life, once again, got in the way. In all honesty, a part of me has been fearing this news all summer, as if I knew somehow that it was coming (my family will understand this weird feeling) …

Anyway, Phyllis was such an inspiration during a difficult time in my life. It was a time in which I was hoping to find love but instead, had my heart broken a couple times in a row by men I thought I’d chosen better. While all my girlfriends were slipping away because they were busy with new husbands or new babies, Phyllis was their to offer an ear, advice, wisdom by sharing stories with me through email.

I loved her emails. They always came at the right time and made me feel so much better or made me question things and refocus. Here’s just a taste during an exchange on friendship and betrayal:

“I have been so very fortunate to have made some very special life long friends. I don't bail on my friends! But if someone disappoints me, proves themselves untrustworthy, I look on it that I have learned something about them and so I don't trust them again, so I will never again be disappointed by them. The friendship changes for me but we don't become enemies. Things like I'm talking about usually happen with acquaintances or work friendships, not with my true heart friends. If someone violates your trust at work, you still have to work with them and see them so I found that if I looked at it that way, I could continue a cordial working relationship knowing that I could … never let my guard down, never let myself be in a position to be hurt by them again. Sometimes it sounds so cold to me, but it serves to insulate myself from another disappointment, at least I try.

Some people think that brutal honesty is always best no matter how much it hurts and some people just want to make themselves feel bigger and better by pointing out your mistakes or faults, real or imagined. There is no time or place in our lives for those people. We need people who love us, who encourage us, who praise us, positive people who love to laugh and enjoy life.
I saw a little book today about friendship, just a little four inch square book with about twenty pages, one of the sayings in it was: "When you have a problem, I will help. If I can't help, I will sit down beside you and listen." I loved that.  
That's the best kind of friend. …”

Until we meet again, my friend, I raise a glass of my favorite cocktail to you … and K, this is for you …

Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was; there is unbroken continuity.
[There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident?]
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. 
All is well.
~Canon, Henry Scott Holland of St. Paul's Cathedral



crushed ice
2 ounces white rum
1 teaspoon simple syrup (optional)
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce maraschino liqueur
1 lime wheel, for garnish (optional)

Fill a cocktail shaker with the ice. Pour in the rum, syrup, juices and liqueur and shake well. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with the lime.

xo, Ani

Monday, August 18, 2014

Spaghetti (Squash) and Meatballs with Quick Tomato Sauce

My father's meatballs were famous amongst our family and friends when I was younger. Whether they were being served in sandwiches, accompanied by spaghetti, or served with his even more famous lasagna, the meatballs inevitably stole the show.

You'd think that making meatballs would be easy. With such simple components, how hard can it really be? Meatballs are just ground meat, seasoning, a little egg, a little milk. Doesn't sound too difficult, right?

My experience has proven that the perfect meatball is rather elusive. I've found that ordering meatballs at restaurants is like opening a White Elephant gift: either it's a joke impersonating a meatball or it's almost a winner. From overcooked and or tough, to mushy and spongy (worse, am I not right?), they often lack flavor. 

It would seem that Dad's tender, flavorful meatballs have spoiled me.

So I decided it was time to share a few family secrets to making a good meatball. Is this the quintessential Italian meatball? Hardly. I'm not Italian after all. But it is a tasty meatball and one I've grown up loving. I've tweaked my Dad's recipe ever so slightly, putting my own stamp on it as most cooks are wont to do. Regardless of whether you're making traditional meatballs or experimenting with the flavor profiles (Greek, Mexican, Moroccan, etc.), it all boils down to good technique and good ingredients.

Number one on my list is the most crucial and it holds true whether you're making meatballs, meatloaf or hamburger patties: Don't overwork the meat. Overworking the meat compacts it, making it dense and tough. Overcoming this is easy: I use a carving fork to mix my meat, using quick short "rakes" through the meat, and using it fold the meat so that you're lifting the meat up and over. I frequently tap the fork against the bowl to release meat stuck on the tines. If left to continue accumulating on the tines, the meat will get compressed and that's a no-no.

Second, use two meats: Although the classic meatball is made with ground beef, my personal preference is to add some ground pork. In addition to adding juiciness, I find the pork adds more flavor. This especially holds true if you're planning on using turkey or chicken in place of beef as these meats can be quite lean and meatballs made from them can dry out before proper internal temps are achieved. 

Next tip? Use fresh herbs whenever possible – lots of them. I use fresh parsley, oregano (Dad doesn't), and marjoram. Also equally important, add onion and fresh garlic. The trick here though, is to grate the onion instead of chopping and to press the garlic. This is something my Dad doesn't do, however, I found that grating the onions and pressing the garlic means you aren't biting into chunks of onions and garlic yet each bite is delicately flavored with these two vegetables. I learned this trick not in my meatball making endeavors but from Caron Golden, a local food writer and recipe developer, while making her recipe for zucchini pancakes for a food cover several months back. I thought it was genius and have incorporated the technique into many dishes since.

And lastly, this next suggestion is a cue taken from baking: Mix all the wet ingredients and seasonings together prior to adding it to the meat to cut down on the amount of handling the meat needs to endure. 

As for browning the meatballs prior to baking them, I'm going to leave that up to you. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. If I'm not making a huge tray of meatballs and I'm not in a hurry, sure, I'll brown them first. But I'm usually making a large batch and honestly, I often don't feel like taking the time to also brown. However, if you're forsaking the baking and want the meatballs to finish cooking in a large stockpot of marinara sauce, then do first brown the meatballs before adding them to your sauce. 

When I decided to share this with you all, I was craving spaghetti and meatballs. Since I've adopted a low carb, no white flour diet, I was determined to enjoy my craving without crashing my diet. I have spaghetti squash stepping in for pasta and really, I have come to like this "spaghetti" so much better than wheat spaghetti because I can enjoy my meal without feeling tired and bloated 10 minutes later. 

Give it a try this way and let me know what you think. 

And if you really prefer traditional pasta, go for it. No judgement here. :)

Okay, primer done. Ready to make meatballs? 

This recipe makes about 20 meatballs using a size 16 food service scoop (bowl holds 2.75 ounces, bought locally at Smart & Final, green handle). The squash and the sauce serve 6 with 2 meatballs each. Freeze the rest of the meatballs for later use. I love to pull them out of the freezer, pop them into a steamer basket (or, really in hurry, the microwave) for quick last minute meals. Double the sauce and squash and you can easily serve 10. 

Also, a note on the onion for the meatballs, I find that cold onions release less of the tear-inducing enzyme when cutting them. Place the onion in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before you need it. 

For baking both the squash and the meatballs, I used a pair of rimmed ¼ sheet pans (aka, jelly roll pans). If you want your meatballs a little more crispy on the exterior, use a larger rimmed baking sheet and space meatballs 1 to 1 ½ inches apart. I like to pack mine somewhat tightly so they stay juicier. 

Serves 6 (2 meatballs each, with leftover meatballs to freeze)


1 (5 pound) spaghetti squash
¼ cup water
1 ½ pounds extra lean ground beef
1 pound extra lean ground pork
3 cups cubed whole wheat bread (about 3 slices)
¾ cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, thick stems removed
¼ cup finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon finely chopped marjoram
1 small white onion, cold
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
⅔ cups grated parmesan
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ of an onion, minced (about ⅓ cup)
½ rib of celery, minced (about ⅓ cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon good Italian tomato paste
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
dash of black pepper, or to taste
½ teaspoon chile powder, or to taste (or pinch of red pepper flakes)
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 sprig fresh basil

Garnish, optional: 
Freshly chopped parsley or basil
Grated parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Split the squash in half length-wise. Remove and discard seeds. Place cut-side down onto a rimmed baking sheet. Add ¼ cup water and roast for 25-30 minutes or until "al-dente" (the squash flesh should easily pull apart into spaghetti-like strands when raked with a fork while still maintaining a bit of a crunch; don't over bake as it will get mushy). When ready, remove from oven, cover with foil and set aside. Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.
3. Make the meatballs: Place the two meats into a large bowl and use a carving fork or gently use your fingers to break apart and combine meats. Careful not to compact or overwork; set aside.
4. Pour milk over cubed bread in a large bowl. Stir well to combine and let stand 10 minutes to allow bread to absorb milk. 
5. In the meantime, chop the fresh parsley, oregano and marjoram. Using a food processor or the large holes on a box grater, grate the onion. Crack the egg into a small cup and lightly beat, breaking up yolk.
6. Back to the bread mixture, give it a good stir then use your hands to crush any chunks and bits of crusts. Continue crushing with hands until the texture resembles oatmeal. Drop in the chopped herbs, grated onion, pressed garlic, egg and parmesan. Add the salt and pepper then stir well to combine. Pour into the meat mixture. Alternate raking and folding the meat with the carving fork to combine all of the ingredients.
7. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray. Use a scoop to portion out the meatball onto wet hands. Carefully roll into a ball shape, handling the meatball as little as possible then place onto the prepared baking pan. Continue with the remainder of the meat. Bake meatballs for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Meatballs are done when internal temperature registers 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. When finished cooking, remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest 10 minutes. 
8. To make sauce: Drizzle the olive oil into a large skillet. When shimmering, add onion and celery; cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and continue to stir and cook 1 minute more. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and stir well to combine. Sprinkle in the salt, pepper and chile powder; taste and adjust seasoning. Add the sprig of oregano and basil and bring sauce to a boil. Turn heat off heat and remove herb sprigs. 
9. To serve: Rake the squash with a fork to create "noodles" and divide between 6 pasta bowls. Add 12 meatballs to the sauce, turn to coat, then scoop out two meatballs into each bowl. Divide the sauce between the bowls. Garnish with additional parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley or basil.

Note: I use a consumer site to analyze my recipes and approximate nutritional data. Accuracy is not guaranteed but I use it as an approximation to help me make more informed choices. I hope you find it useful.

Have a wonderful week, everyone. Until next time … Buon appetito!

xo, Ani