Chef Vu “Phat” Le has one goal with his food: to take your taste buds around the world and back again. The brilliant co-owner of Chow Yum Phat in Baton Rouge calls on countless culinary techniques and flavors to influence a day-to-day menu, and the same can be said for his Roasted Tomato Harissa.
Sticking to a singular cooking style has never interested Vu, so melding traditional Asian and Cajun elements for this flavor-packed recipe came naturally. For Vu, the key to enjoying what you cook is playfulness and experimentation, adding bits and pieces from other cultures and cuisines you enjoy. It’s all about taking what you already love and using what’s in reach to inspire, elevate, and create something new.
Q What’s the harissa best served with?
It’s a really versatile hot sauce-type condiment that can be added to all kinds of things. I’ve served it with grilled steak and other proteins like shrimp and chicken, but it’s also good with vegetables like fried cauliflower as a dip. It can go in with hummus, soups, and ramen to add a little extra pizzazz.
Q Is gochugaru (a Korean chili powder) easily substituted with other chili powders?
I went with the gochugaru to add an Asian flair. It’s not too spicy but still has a great peppery flavor. It’s also deliciously smoky, and that comes out when you toast it with the sesame oil. It can be substituted with any dried chile flakes you can find at the grocery store, but the spiciness and smokiness will change depending on what you use.
Q What benefits are there to toasting spices?
You can mix all the spices and peppers together, and it’ll be fine. You just won’t get the caramelization that you’d get from toasting them. Toasting them brings out all their oils and adds a depth of flavor that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
Q How does this harissa blend both your Asian and Louisiana roots?
We all know that red bell peppers are part of our holy trinity. We use them in everything from gumbos to jambalayas. The gochugaru adds that Asian influence, but I like to mix it all up whenever I cook. The two styles of cooking lend themselves to each other more than most people think and people crave more and more these days.
- 4 large Creole tomatoes, quartered
- 4 red bell peppers, halved and stemmed
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons coarse gochugaru (Korean chili powder)
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon firmly packed light brown sugar
- Position oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 450°.
- Place tomatoes and bell peppers on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with grapeseed oil, and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake until charred and roasted, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add gochugaru; cook, stirring frequently, until it reaches a deep red color, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
- In the work bowl of a food processor, process tomato mixture, gochugaru mixture, lemon juice, garlic, coriander, paprika, cumin, and brown sugar. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. The flavor will develop more as it sits, so it’ll be better the next day! It’s great on any protein or as a condiment in your favorite soups and dips.