All About Comfort Food
Hi There! It’s been too long, yep, over a week since my last post. Like many of us, I’ve been wrapped up in all that’s happening with COVID-19 across the globe. I actually started thinking about sharing more pantry-friendly comfort food dishes several weeks back. I had a feeling we’d need them and here we are. I hope that exploring new recipes here and cooking for your household (even/especially if it’s just you) brings some peace and joy to your days in these uncertain times. These delicious Saucy Tots should bring a smile to you face 🙂
I love the combination of something saucy and savory with crispy carbs. This combo is found in many tasty dishes around the world; poutine in Quebec, chilaquiles in Mexico and my new fave, masala fries in Kenya. In my take, I’m combining a North African inspired sauce with good ole American tater tots. I grew up eating tater tots for breakfast, and though they’re not in my regular rotation these days, they are still so good and very comforting IMHO.
Why It Works
The crunchy tots are the perfect partner for what is basically a hearty, flavorful quick stew. Any meal where I can get a little crunchy, creamy, savory, tangy and fresh, in one bowl is a winner in my book. Even better, Saucy Tots comes together in the time it takes to bake the tater tots. This dish is very flexible, so even if you’re missing one or two components (like tater tots!), you can make some swaps and end up with something just as tasty. I’ve listed some swapping suggestions in the section below.
This dish is all about layering flavors to build complexity and keep things interesting from the first bite to the last. First up – onion and bell pepper are thinly sliced so they cook and caramelize quickly creating a flavorful base for the sauce. Harissa does the heavy lifting in bringing spice, heat, and more aromatic notes to the dish. Harissa is a North African hot red chili paste that often includes garlic, caraway, coriander as well as olive oil (more below). A bit of ground cinnamon is also a nod to North African savory cooking and plays well with the harissa.
Wilting in hearty mixed greens that can stand up to strong flavors legitimizes Saucy Tots as a “one dish” dinner option. We need those veggies! If you’re so inclined, add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle fresh cilantro when you serve them. The tangy richness of the sour cream and hit of herbs takes the dish to the next level.
You can use another spicy/flavorful sauce instead of harissa. The first time I made this, I couldn’t find harissa paste in the grocery store so I used Peri-Peri sauce which is also primarily made of peppers. It was a tasty swap. You could also use a red curry paste or other peppery condiment. The goal is add something concentrated and flavorful. If you’re in a pinch, try adding 1 TBSP of hot sauce along with ground coriander seed, salt and caraway seed if you have it.
Many greens will do. I like pre-mixed blends of young hearty greens (like kale, mustard, bok choy) because they cook quickly and hold some of their shape. You could add spinach or other greens, just not regular spring salad mix. It will not hold up. To take it another direction, you could add fresh or frozen green beans. They would just need to cook a few minutes longer.
Omit the turkey or swap for a vegan protein of your choice. Vegetarian/vegan protein crumbles are an easy swap. Ground beef or lamb would be great, though you may need to skim off some fat before adding the tomatoes.
Add some eggs if you like. You could poach them in the sauce after adding the greens. Kinda like shakshuka. Now that’d be a breakfast!
No tots, no problem. The idea is to have a crispy base, so you could use fries, or roasted potatoes instead. Pita chips even. Or-idea Tater Tots (my gold standard) were sold out on a pre-Covid-19 shopping trip, so I bought their round hashbrown discs. That said, I wouldn’t be mad at eating the sauce over rice or on its own like a stew.
More on Harissa
Harissa is a condiment that can vary widely in ingredients, spiciness and texture. Some varieties contain tomato paste, but I look for ones that don’t (no filler, thank you!). For this recipe, I used Trader Joe’s Tunisian Harissa because it should be available across the US and it’s inexpensive at less than $4 a jar.
Bon Appetit has a great harissa overview worth checking out. A main take away was to find a brand you like and stick with it.
You can find harissa in the jarred condiment aisle or with spices at many grocery stores and specialty shops. It’s often in a jar and sometimes in a tube,
It’s so easy to get caught up in the 24 hour news cycle (me last week) but I’m trying to instead to focus on what I can do and make the most of this time at home alone. Yep, write more posts ha! I’m about to make a sourdough starter so I can try my hand at sourdough bread making in a couple weeks. It’s been on my list, and now I have the time and the end goal of a respectable Sicilian pepperoni pizza.
Video calls make all the difference! I had a fabulous synchronized nacho making dinner with a friend Wednesday night and lovely face mask spa night with some girlfriends last night. I’m also working on some playlists to share music that calms me when I’m feeling anxious. Not to mention making a dent in the half dozen partially read books on my phone… including the one on building good habits 🙂
What are you guys doing if you’re home bound? Any food projects, recipes or pantry tips you like to see? Leave a comment below or message me on Instagram, @letsgosho. I’d love to hear from you!
Like many, I’m praying for relief and healing from the suffering Covid-19 is causing around the world. Fortunately, we can all play a part (even if that’s staying home today) to minimize the impact of Covid-19 in our communities. Below are a few links to US and International organizations in need of donations for relief efforts. There will certainly be even more we can do to help those impacted in the weeks and months to come.
Take care, friends!
Help With Covid-19 Relief Efforts
Taste your harissa on it’s own first to get an idea of how hot it is. They can vary widely. I used Trader Joe’s Harissa and recommend 2-3 tbsp for low to moderate heat.
- 1 32 oz bag tater tots
- 1 bell pepper (any color)
- ½ medium or 1 small onion
- 1 tsp fine salt (divided)
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ tsp of cinnamon
- 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
- 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 lb ground turkey (I like 93% lean)
- 2 to 3 Tbsp harissa (see notes for substitute)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 5 to 7 ounces mixed greens (baby spinach, kale, chard, bok choy work great) For Serving
- Sour cream
- Large skillet
- large baking sheet (11×17)
- cutting board
- spoon or wooden spatula (for mixing)
- measuring spoons
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Slice the onion in half lengthwise then each half into thin slices. Cut approx. ¾ of the bell pepper into thin slices. You want equal amounts of onion and bell pepper. Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic. (Yay you’re done chopping!)
- Once the oven is pre-heated, spread the tater tots in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 28-32 minutes.
- Add 1 ½ Tbsp of olive oil to the skillet set on medium heat. Add the sliced onion and bell pepper, (but NOT GARLIC) to the skillet and sprinkle on ½ tsp of salt. Cook then stirring and scraping the bottom periodically for 7-10 minutes or until the onions are tender and beginning to brown on the edges. Stir in the chopped garlic and continue mixing for a minute.
- Add the ground turkey and use the spoon to break it up into small pieces. Sprinkle on another ½ tsp of salt, 1 tsp of sugar and ¼ tsp of cinnamon and continue cooking until the turkey is nearly cooked through. Stir in 2-3 Tbsps of harissa (depending on your spice preferences).
- Add 28 oz of crushed tomatoes, mix everything together and bring it to a simmer (you want some bubbling but not an aggressive boil). Let it simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the mixed greens using your hands to tear the leaves into smaller pieces. Once the greens are wilted and tender, turn off the heat and give it a taste. Add more salt (by the ¼ tsp) if needed (this will depend on the amount of salt in your tomatoes and harissa).
- You can spoon the sauce over the tots right before eating or plate the tots next to the sauce to maximize crispness. Top each serving with a small dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of cilantro if you like. Enjoy!
For storing: The sauce freezes well in containers or plastic bags. I make a full batch of sauce and only bake the tots I need for one or 2 meals and freeze the rest of the sauce for later. You can reheat any leftover tots in the toaster oven.