ANN ARBOR, MI – Tucked away in a corner of a small square in Ann Arbor is a restaurant with powerful Tunisian and North African flavors.
El Harissa, 1516 N Maple Road, serves dishes made with recipes and spices from the south shore of Tunisia, Morocco, Italy, Greece and Lebanon. The family-run restaurant, run by Khaled, Susan and Yusef Houamed, originally from Tunisia, has been creating their version of North African cuisine for the past seven years.
Some of the small dishes on the menu, meant to be eaten with pita bread or vegetables, include mama houria, a mash of carrots with cumin; harissa, made with olive oil, garlic and roasted peppers; zaalouk, a Moroccan-inspired smoked eggplant spread with tomato, onion and parsley; garlic sauce and various other dips.
“Our customers think we have the best hummus in town,” Yusef said.
The Houamed also created the Carthage salad, named after the city, which contains poached figs, dates, pomegranate seeds and grilled chickpeas. Yusef said Tunisia’s main food exports are figs, dates, olives and pomegranates.
Among the restaurant’s most popular dishes are the spiced roasted mushrooms and cauliflower, both made with rice and chickpea flour, garlic, olive oil and a mixture of ‘North African spices.
“We are more than a restaurant, we are also a market and we sell olive oils and handicrafts from local artists,” Khaled said. “We wanted to have a place that had robust flavors, healthy food and affordable food. We also wanted to have a place where it was a community space. We have, at least before the pandemic, a lot of events in our place for the local population. “
El Harissa also sells pottery, kitchen utensils, ornaments and fabrics from Tunisia and jewelry from Morocco. The family usually have meals inside and out, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, everything is now packed for take out.
Some of the favorite dishes include Chermoula Chicken, a thinly sliced brined chicken breast served over rice or couscous, with a chermoula sauce, which is a North African sauce with candied lemon, olive oil. , garlic, egg whites and herbs. The family also put their own twist on the merguez meatballs, which in Tunisia are said to come in sausage form. However, they made it into a meatball of lamb and beef using various spices, onions and tomato sauce.
“Tunisian cuisine is notoriously spicy, but we want our food to be very accessible,” said Yusef.
Bacalao fish pie is also an item found all over the northern shore of the Mediterranean region, Yusef said. The salted cod is mixed with potatoes, sardines, carrots and leeks like a shepherd’s pie.
To top it off with a little sweetness, El Harissa serves authentic Italian ice cream, Turkish coffee and Moroccan tea.
“It was a labor of love. Susan and I are passionate cooks and we love being around people, ”said Khaled.
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