Spice Master: Contestant #2


Editors Note: Yesterday you got to see how a pack of 12 spices inspired bobby to create an intricate lamb and couscous dish.  Today, you’ll find out how JoeHoya reinterpreted those same Tunisian spices.  And tomorrow – we’ll leave it up to ES readers to pick the Who Cooked It Better: Spice Master.   

Spice Master Contender: JoeHoya

It’s a walk-off.”

When the Who Cooked It Better gauntlet was thrown down, I couldn’t help but smile.  As anyone who knows me can tell you, most of my kitchen improvisations involve cumin, paprika, chili powder, or a combination of the three.  Working three of the spices from the Tunisian fun-pack wouldn’t be the problem – editing would.  I needed to find a dish that highlighted the spices without going overboard.

And I wanted to do my best to incorporate that elusive Tunisian flare, so I did some reading and found out that Tunisian cuisine involves a fair amount of seafood (I also found a recipe for a pine nut pudding and a garlicky chickpea soup, but I figured both would be dismissed as obvious pandering to BS and Gansie).

In the end, I turned to John Ash’s “From the Earth to the Table,” a cookbook my wife and I picked up after we saw it in a winery in Temecula, California.  We’ve found some real winners in this book before, and Elizabeth reminded me that one of them is a delicious tomato-curry soup served with riso (a rice-like pasta, similar to orzo only smaller and easier to overcook.)

Full disclosure – I’m not really a recipe person.  I like to use them more as inspirations than blueprints, adding ingredients that make sense (or that I happen to have on hand.)  In this case, however, I tried to stay relatively close to the original recipe and then supplement or replace with the Tunisian spices we had to work with.

Click through: full recipe, another pic, serving suggests

Shrimp and Riso Tomato-Curry Soup 

I started with half a white onion and two cloves of garlic, sauteeing them for a few minutes in one tablespoon olive oil.  Gotta love that aroma.  When the garlic and onions started to look translucent and just a little brown (about a minute or two), I added in the soup base and all of its attendant spices: 4 cups chicken stock, 1 cup dry white wine, 2 pounds of chopped tomatoes (canned diced tomatoes also work in a pinch), 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon smoky paprika, 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon harissa paste, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads.

From there, it was a simple matter of letting the soup simmer over medium-low heat for 10 or 12 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.

While that was simmering, I cooked 1/3 cup of riso for roughly 9 minutes, draining it when it was just shy of al dente.  The riso then went into the soup along with one pound of peeled, deveined shrimp, where they were allowed to simmer for five minutes or so – just enough time to cook the shrimp through and soften up the riso.


A quick taste, an extra dash of curry, some salt and some pepper, and the soup was ready to go.  I served it with a few additional saffron threads sprinkled on top for good measure.

This is a surprisingly refreshing soup that would make a good starter to a lamb or beef dish for a dinner party, but it also stands as a meal on its own, even on a hot day.  The curry and the cumin give it a dusky, smoky flavor and the harissa adds a touch of immediate heat.  The riso and the shrimp satisfy without being overly heavy.  And there’s plenty of opportunity for improvisation – I’m hard-pressed to think of any combinations of spices that you couldn’t work into this soup in one way or another, as long as you keep the chicken stock/white wine/curry base.

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  • bobby September 16, 2008  

    Yum. That looks delicious. I say we have a Tunisian dinner party — you start us off with this dish, and I’ll cook the lamb again.

    Nice photos. Despite who wins, we’ve certainly given them some nice food porn for the site.

  • JoeHoya September 16, 2008  

    It’s a deal, Bobby. Though frankly I’d agree to just about anything for a taste of that lamb shoulder you made.

    Credit for the photos goes to my wife – she’s got a much better eye than I do (thank goodness).

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