Unlike our friends in the eastern region of the United States, Montana has been in the middle of what can only be called a heat wave for the past several weeks. Temperatures have hovered around the mid-forties and this weekend even reached as high as 68°F (!). After too many months of bitter dry gusting winds, watery mud puddling in the entry-way next to a growing pile of snow boots, and itchy wool socks, we have been taking full advantage of the sweet weather: I spent a blissful Friday afternoon with a book of Maile Meloy short stories on the deck with a glass of iced tea in the sunshine and did not look at the time once. (And, tried not to think of the crispy, fire-filled summer we will likely have as a result.)
Although the weather is feeling spring-like, the fruits and vegetables at the grocery store are most decidedly not. Root vegetables of tubers and onions, and dark leafy greens are still very much “in season” here in Montana, and remain my wintry brunch standby. When throwing this together for Adam and I this morning, I knew I wanted to add a little something that would lighten up the meal so it would feel like spring is just around the corner – even though I’ve no doubt we will be due for another snow in the next week or two.
Our mint plant, bathing as it has been in cold sunlight on the kitchen windowsill, is growing at unprecedented rates, and I thought the classic pairings of harissa, feta and mint would work perfectly with hash and eggs. The harissa paste adds heat, the feta and Spanish olives provide salt, and the tangy olive juice and bright mint prevent this dish from tasting overly rich.
Harissa is a spicy Maghrebian (north-west African) chili paste made from roasted chili peppers of several varieties, garlic, coriander, caraway, cumin, dried mint, and lemon. It generally comes in paste form (Saveur has a recipe if you prefer to make your own rather that purchasing from the store) and I have also seen it prepared as a powder, though I have not used it myself. Harissa can be used as any other spice paste- in stews or sauces, as a condiment, as a marinade for meat or fish, or tossed with vegetables.
Harissa has lately been experiencing a boom in popularity, making prolific appearances on gastropub and fine dining menus alike. I first tasted it in a lamb kebab marinade my father prepared about ten years ago – a mixture of yogurt, harissa and lemon smeared over chunks of lamb and grilled – delicious! In Montana, of course, it is no where to be found. Some months ago, I searched our local chain grocery store (I was referred to the Asian aisle of prepackaged Thai Kitchen chili pastes) and our local health food store (the high schooler stocking the shelves wasn’t quite sure what harissa was or where to find it), and came up empty-handed. Thankfully, my father in Washington mailed me a care package containing several spice blends (berbere and ras el hanout), some teff flour for homemade Ethiopian injera, and some harissa. I have since discovered that you can purchase the powdered form of harissa at the natural grocer here in Helena in their bulk spice section, but for the time-being, this harissa paste is working just fine for me!
This hash is fast and easy to throw together- apart from chopping the sweet potatoes and greens, the preparation mostly consists of standing at the oven with a mug of coffee in your hand, waiting for various ingredients to cook. The entire dish took about fifteen minutes start to finish (including chopping and egg cooking time). Perfect for a Sunday morning when you want to get out into the sunshine!
Harissa Sweet Potato Hash with Mint, Feta + Spanish Olives
1 sweet potato, diced into small cubes
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon harissa paste, or to taste
3 cups packed dark leafy greens (swiss chard, kale, spinach)
1 cup mixed Spanish olives
1 tablespoon crumbled feta
1/4 cup mint leaves
ghee, for the pan
1. Sauté the cubed sweet potato in a tablespoon or so of ghee over medium heat with a lid on until the sweet potato is al dente. Remove cover and stir in minced garlic and harissa paste until sweet potatoes are coated.
2. Turn the heat up to medium-high, allowing the sweet potatoes to brown for several minutes per side. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Meanwhile, chop dark leafy greens into approximately half inch-by-half inch squares. Add greens to the hash and stir. Immediately create four wells in the hash, and drop a raw egg into each well. Sprinkle hash with olives and feta.
4. Cover the pan (a clear lid works well here) and reduce heat to low or medium-low. Cook until egg whites have cooked through but yolk remains runny. Alternately, you may cook for a few minutes on the burner and move the pan to the broiler to finish off the top of the eggs (which reduces cooking any bottom of the yolk).
5. When eggs have cooked, remove from heat and top with fresh mint leaves. Serve and enjoy!
Note: For a dinner, feel free to bulk up the hash with a diced yellow onion and additional vegetables.