Grilling Guru Recipe: Circa’s Skewered Prawns with Harissa and Labneh

A spicy seafood dish from chefs Octavio Becerra and Byron Freeze

 Circa is the latest in a wave of ambitious restaurants to serve the booming coastal neighborhood. From local hospitality giant Michael Zislis (Strand House, Shade Hotel), the 130-seat spot also marks the grand return of chef Octavio Becerra, former chef at Glendale’s Palate, which was named Los Angeles magazine’s #1 Best New Restaurant in 2008 and then closed suddenly last April. With the help of executive chef Bryon Freeze, Becerra oversees a border-crossing menu that’s heavy on seafood and seasonality (pretty much a given nowadays), with influences ranging from China to Korea to Italy to Mexico to Turkey. Craving ceviche, eggplant babaganoush, Korean beef short ribs, and crispy Baja seabass all at once? You’re in luck—they’re all here. Tunisia is the inspiration for a dish of simple skewered prawns flavored with spicy harissa and served with a cooling sauce made from labneh, a strained yogurt. As a bonus, this recipe makes loads of extra harissa, which is great for spreading on flatbread or sandwiches, whisking into salad dressings, and slathering on meats and fish for a fiery marinade.

Recipe: Skewered Prawns with Harissa and Labneh
(Serves 1)

For harissa sauce:

(yields 1 quart; remainder of harissa can be frozen after using for prawns)

10 ancho chili

1/2 cup de arbol chili
2 cups water
1 1/4 ounces whole coriander seed, toasted and course ground
1 1/2 ounces whole caraway seed, toasted and course ground
1 ounce whole cumin seed, toasted and coarse ground
1/2 tablespoon cayenne chili, seeded and chopped
2 ounces peeled garlic
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

For Prawns:

3 skewers, 6”, soaked in water for 24 hours
2 tablespoons harissa
3 large shrimp or prawns
3 halves medjool dates
1/2 tablespoon whole pistachios, toasted and coarse ground
6 leaves dandelion greens lettuce

For labneh:

1 ounce zatar spice
2 ounces Greek yogurt
¼ fluid ounce extra virgin olive oil


For harissa: Toast the chilies for 2-3 minutes. Soak the toasted chili de arbol and ancho chili in warm water for 20 minutes. Puree the chili mixture in a blender and add the cayenne pepper. Toast the coriander, caraway, and cumin seeds and grind. Combine the chili paste mixture with the spice mix. Season with salt.

For prawns: Marinate the prawns in the harissa for 24 to 48 hours. Skewer the prawn an date with the soaked wooden skewer. Grill the two skewers until cooked through yet tender.

Place the skewers onto a plate over a single leaf of dandelion green. Lightly dust the skewers with the toasted and ground pistachio and serve with a ramkin of the lebneh and extra virgin olive oil.