My first encounter with calamari was in its popular bar fare/appetizer form—breaded and fried. Sneaking into the shared snack spread cloaked in a golden brown crispy disguise allowed it to blend in. I admit at first I would only eat the rings and not the curly tentacles, a bit ridiculous considering both parts are from the same creature, but they appeared too lifelike for my once less adventurous dining preferences.
No longer needing breaded camouflage, grilled calamari with a simple squeeze of lemon is my starter of choice at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. Craving more flavor and components to eat with grilled squid, I made a North African inspired warm salad. Arugula, parsley, red onion and chickpeas tossed in lemon juice and dotted with dollops of fiery homemade harissa were topped with grilled squid, tentacles and all.
For the harissa
8 dried Guajillo chilies, stemmed and deseeded (about 2 oz.)
8 dried New Mexico chilies, stemmed and deseeded (about 2 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for topping off harissa
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 garlic cloves, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
For the salad
4 squid including tentacles (about 1/2 lb.), cleaned and patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
4 oz. arugula
Juice of half 1 lemon
For the harissa, pour boiling water over the chilies in a medium bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes until the chilies have softened.
Toast the caraway seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Grind the seeds into a powder using a mortar & pestle or a spice grinder.
Transfer the peppers, spices, olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor. Puree the mixture into a smooth paste.
For the salad, slit the squid tubes down one side to open them up flat. Lightly score the flesh in a diagonal crisscross pattern and leave the tentacles whole. Toss the squid with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Combine the chickpeas, onion, parsley and arugula in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice.
For the squid, heat a grill pan over high heat. When the grill is hot, place the squid pieces scored side down along with the tentacles. Cook for 1 minute until they start to curl and turn opaque. Flip the squid over and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
Cut the squid into smaller pieces, but leave the tentacles whole. Toss the warm squid with the salad. Top with dollops of harissa depending on spice preference.
Note: The harissa recipe makes 1 cup. Pour olive oil over the leftover harissa and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Harissa is a versatile condiment for stews, vegetables, poultry and meat.