Food Musings Recipe Turkey

Berbere-Harissa Turkey Joes with Harissa Aioli

At around 11:30 this morning, I had a student approach me to beg for an extension on an already-late assignment. I was eating my hastily-assembled lunch at the time, and as he came up to my desk he had the privilege to watch me unceremoniously slurp dressing-soaked spinach from the open end of a piece of foil.

I know… it’s ok to be jealous.

When he saw the foil, I saw a flicker of enthusiastic recognition cross his face, and before he could investigate further he exclaimed “Aw damn yo…” (not the most articulate of young men, I’ll admit) “… you got yourself some Chipotle?!?”

I took the opportunity to exercise my new favorite game with students: self awareness time. I simply wait a few seconds longer than normal before responding to them. It’s awkward (which I love) and it allows a few extra seconds of – and what I assume for teenagers is a virtual eternity of – time for them to actually register what they’ve said. My theory is that they rarely ever have to listen to, much less have accountability for, the stupid shit that they say on a regular basis. It’s wonderfully awkward, and I love it.

After a beat I responded in the negative, and that it was homemade, and his look instantly shifted from one of enthusiasm to absolute revulsion.

To be clear, the foil was rolled around a tortilla containing the aforementioned spinach, homemade ginger dressing, cherry tomatoes, and thin slices of flank steak marinated in a Chinese Five-Spice concoction that I pulled from the pages of my World Spice cookbook. It was delicious. Actually, it IS delicious… there’s still some in the fridge.

But that’s not how it appeared to my student. Not at all. It appeared to him as multi-colored mishmash of odd-smelling ingredients, all stuffed deceptively into a burrito wrapper.

He was disappointed, to say the least.

I didn’t pursue the matter with him, but after we settled on a half-day extension for his late work (I fully admit that I’m a softie for students in need) I did ask him whether or not he liked trying new foods.

He just shook his head, and mumbled “Naw… I like Chipotle burritos with chicken” as he wandered away.

I try to refrain from passing judgement on students like this young man, who may or may not have the means, the parental involvement, or the overall enthusiasm for food and cooking. But I want to be able to take them aside, and encourage them to sample new things, expand their horizons, or even just order a different sort of meat in their Chipotle burrito. I want to teach them to appreciate the flavors and techniques of various culinary traditions, just as I attempt to encourage their appreciation of great literature.

Light bulb!!!

New curriculum idea: Chewing Your Way Through Literature – A thematically designed course focused on reading and eating.

I wonder if the school district will be on board.

In the mean-time, please enjoy the following recipe for turkey Sloppy Joe’s with just a hint of African (berber and harissa) spice. (I know it’s a little misleading that I mentioned my Chinese five-spice flank steak recipe earlier, then hit you with a turkey Joe recipe… but you’ll get over it.)


Joe Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lbs ground turkey
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion – chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic – minced
  • 1 tsp Berbere spice
  • 1 tsp dried Harissa spice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce for serving
  • Buns for serving

Aioli Ingredients:

  • 1 whole egg
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp Harissa paste (note: Harissa spice blend and harissa paste are different things)


Make the aioli according to these very simple directions from

Brown the turkey in a frying pan over medium heat. Drain the cooked meat and remove it to a bowl.

In the same pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, and then cook the chopped onion until translucent.

Add the spices and garlic to the onion and mix thoroughly, cooking for 1 to 2 minutes.

Return the cooked turkey to the pan with the onion, and then stir in the water, tomato paste, sugar and Worcestershire sauce.

Mix it all together, and then reduce the heat to low, and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.


Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on toasted buns with a handful of shredded lettuce and a smear of the Harissa aioli.

I served these up with sweet potato fries from Trader Joe’s.

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