I’m in a book club. (What with the homemade astronaut costume and now the book club, you can tell that my life is totally crazy!) The book for this quarter was Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton — a great read, if you haven’t read it yet. After everyone finished the book, we planned to meet for a discussion and dinner. We asked each person to bring a bottle of wine and a dish to share that was either “from or inspired by” the book or the author.
There aren’t any actual recipes in the book, so coming up with a dish to bring was somewhat of a challenge. But, after searching the web for some ideas, I came across a post by The Wednesday Chef called “Gabrielle Hamilton’s Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives, and Feta.” According to her post, “It’s Gabrielle Hamilton‘s recipe and was published in the first Canal House cookbook.” The Wednesday Chef then posted a modified version of that recipe. My recipe, provided below, is a riff of hers.
These are the main changes that I made to The Wednesday Chef‘s version: more zucchini, more olives, more cheese, less Harissa (I’m assuming Harissa can vary in heat, so seems wise to start with a little and then add more if desired), and no caraway seeds (they just taste so “rye bread” to me). I also added my all-time favorite ingredient for any salad dressing: white balsamic vinegar. And I have to say, it turned out wonderfully!
What I really love about this salad is its uniqueness. I often cook zucchini, but never in a salad; what a great idea! The Harissa paste (a thick mixture of hot chiles, garlic, and spices), which adds a touch of heat and pop of red color, was also a first for me. You can make Harissa yourself, or just do what I did — buy it in a tube from Whole Foods Market for about $2. (Yes, you can actually buy a food product from Whole Foods for less than $18.)
Harissa Zucchini Salad
Serves 6-8 as a first course or side dish
6 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds
30 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved (lengthwise)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Harissa paste (add more if desired)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
Kosher salt, for seasoning
Place a steamer basket in a medium pot. Add enough water so that it just reaches the bottom of the steamer basket. Place the sliced zucchini in the basket.
Bring water to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce to low. Cover and simmer just until the zucchini begins to turn translucent in the center, about 10 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to a salad bowl or separate dish. The zucchini should be crisp-tender, as it will continue to cook slightly as it cools. As you can see in the picture below, the cooked zucchini is still bright green and holds its shape well. (It’s not soggy or falling apart.) This is key for using zucchini in a salad.
Add the olives to the salad bowl with the zucchini.
Then add 3/4 cup of the cheese. (Save the remaining 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top.)
Now make the dressing. Place the lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Harissa paste, minced garlic, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Pour the dressing over the other ingredients. Toss to combine. (Note: Because of the red dressing, you may want to toss the salad in one bowl, and then carefully transfer and serve it in another.) Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup feta cheese on top of the salad. Let salad marinate for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.