Getting up close and personal with harissa

Getting up close and personal with harissa

Maybe it’s the red, orange, and yellow of the leaves on the trees all around me, but lately all I want to eat is food in the autumnal color spectrum. I’ve forgotten summer like cast-off lover and I can barely bring myself to even regard the bowl of late season tomatoes sitting forlornly on the kitchen counter. Meanwhile, a flaming-orange kabocha squash I brought home from the Great Barrington Guido’s was promptly (and expertly) disassembled by Dano for roasting.

And despite this Indian summer we’re having up here in the northeast, there’s still that hint of autumn in the air, and it’s fact that when autumn rolls around, you need some warming foods. I’m not just talking about hot-from-the-oven warming, I’m talking about tongue-tingling, soul-enriching warming. Yes, that warming.

So I bring you harissa, a warming (i.e., hot) Tunisian chile condiment commonly eaten in north Africa and a favorite in this particular household. It’s deep and smoky, it’s easy to make at home, and it’s good on everything: spread on grilled cheese sandwiches, swirled into hummus, stirred into soups, dappled over soft scrambled eggs at breakfast. I use it most often to build flavor in vegetarian soups, at breakfast — hot, sweet, smoky breakfast — and in a delicious carrot salad called houriya.

Harissa keeps well — I usually divide this batch into three or four very small containers, freezing all but one. The last one gets a thin layer of olive oil over the top and spends the next few weeks in the fridge, awaiting delicious deployment.


From Mediterranean Cooking by Paula Wolfert

Makes about 1 cup

  • 3 oz. dried mild and hot chiles — such as a mixture of anchos, New Mexican, guajillos
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed with 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp. ground caraway seed
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, chopped, wrapped in cheesecloth and pressed until dry
  • 1 tsp. fine sea salt
  • Olive oil
  1. Stem, seed, and break up the chiles. Place in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Cover and let stand 30 minutes. Drain; wrap in cheesecloth and press out excess moisture.
  2. Grind chiles in a good processor with garlic, spices, red bell pepper, and salt. Add enough oil to make a thick paste. Pack the mixture into a small dry jar; cover the harissa with a thin layer of oil, close with a lid, and keep refrigerated. Will keep 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator under a thin layer of oil.

Table Harissa Sauce

This is what you do to thin down the basic recipe above, for serving with meals as a condiment, or to reduce the spicy kick (depending on the chiles you used).

Combine 4 tsp. harissa paste, 4 tsp. water, 2 tsp. olive oil, and 1 or 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice in a small browl and blend well. Makes 1/4 cup.

4 Responses to Harissa

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