My husband loves harissa and I have to credit him for exposing me to it. Maybe you’ve had it and love it, maybe you had it and had no idea you had it, or maybe you’ve never heard of it till now. Harissa is, in a nutshell, a spicy, flavorful condiment and can be a nice addition to many things you already eat (at least if you ask my husband). Harissa is simply a hot chile paste which is considered a “basic flavoring agent” of Tunisian cuisine and most don’t realize how extremely versatile it is.
A dollop on eggs, grilled meat or fish, on roasted vegetables, grain dishes of any kind or in soups can spice up anything you already make. Keep in mind, Harissa is suppose to be hot, so don’t kid yourself there, if you don’t like heat at all, skip this post completely.
To clear up some misconception out there, there is an important difference between something that is “hot” and something that is “spicy”. Hot tends to mean heat from chilies which gives food “heat” but not the temperature to which it is served. Spicy is more of a reference to a spice mixture which can (with some Asian cuisines) be complex enough to also add heat. Typically this is a slow building spice/heat that does not overwhelm the palate. But when making your own harissa, there is some wiggle room, the heat can easily be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the number of chilies in your recipe.
With it’s smoky-spicy flavor, harissa can make any dish more interesting than your average hot sauce. Dried chilies are the main ingredient in this increasingly popular North African condiment and one I have learned to appreciate over the years. While I love flavor, I don’t tend to love heat. When something has too much heat, the flavor of the dish disappears to me, so balance is important to me when using harissa.
What I mean by that isn a little harissa goes a long way, so serving it on the side is what I recommend. This recipe is my version of hot but not crazy hot harissa, that has a great balance of garlic and smoky flavor. The dried chilies can be found rather easily and although this recipe does not make a huge amount, it’s plenty and keeps in the refrigerator for weeks.
- 3 dried guajillo chiles
- 12 dried chiles de arbol
- 1 dried ancho chile
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- dash of cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
- Step 1 Place the dried chilies in a medium bowl. Cover the chilies with boiling water. Mix well and let sit for about 30 minutes to soften.
- Step 2 While the chilies are soaking, place a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the cumin and coriander and toast, shaking frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from he heat and set aside.
- Step 3 Drain the peppers and using a paring knife carefully remove the steam and seeds and discard. Place the peppers in the bowl of a kitchen mixer such as a Cusinart fitted with a blade attachment. Add the garlic and pulse till chopped, followed by the chilis and pulse on/off till a coarse paste forms. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, tomato paste, paprika, salt and cayenne pepper. Pulse till blended, but still chunky.
- Step 4 With the blender on low, add the oil in a slow steady stream.
- Step 5 Place in a glass jar and refrigerate till use. Will keep fresh for 1 week.
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