How to Make Harissa
Harissa is a spicy paste that is used as a condiment in Northern African cuisine. I was first introduced to harissa when I was in elementary school.
I had a friend named Inès, who was of Tunisian decent. I went over to her house one day and I remember we strolled into the kitchen and she pulled out a jar filled with a dark red paste. She dared me to spread some on a piece of baguette and have a taste.
Of course, I accepted the challenge, and oh boy was it spicy! I don't really eat hot chiles, and I could barely handle it. The harissa did have an amazing flavor though, and after a tall glass of milk to soothe my taste buds, I went back for more.
When it came to eating harissa, I was definitely a lightweight compared to Inès and her family. I could barely handle a few bites, but they ate it the way Italians consume balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. Harissa was eaten with bread as a starter, and mixed with meat and vegetables for main course.
Harissa is not only versatile, but also very easy to make. The main ingredients are garlic, and of course, dried red chiles. The final ingredient is time. Like cheese, the longer you wait, the stronger the flavors get and the yummier it is. So prepare a jar this weekend, and you'll be well on your way to making amazing North African dishes.
Yields: 1/2 cup12 dried red chiles, stemmed
2 cloves garlic, halved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup roasted beet (click on the link for the recipe), puréed
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/3 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or regular salt)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
Soak the dried chiles in warm water for an hour. Drain and discard as much liquid as possible. Pat dry using a paper towel. Finely chop the chiles and let them macerate in olive oil for 3 hours.
In a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic into a fine purée.
Heat the oil with chiles over medium-low (do not reach a boil) and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool. Add the puréed garlic.
In a wok, over high heat, dry-roast and constantly stir caraway seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds until they become very fragrant. Remove the wok from the stove and add paprika, cayenne powder (if used) and sea salt (or regular salt). Set aside until cool.
Put the spice mix in a grinder (I use a coffee grinder that I keep exclusively for spices) and grind the mixture into a fine powder.
In a bowl, combine the puréed roasted beets, the spice mix, tomato paste and the chiles with their oil. If you want a smooth consistency, you can blend the harissa mixture in a mini-blender.
Fill a small airtight glass jar with harissa. Make sure there's a layer of oil covering the harissa. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (don't forget to label your food with the date).
I remember Inès' mom would macerate the dried red chiles in olive oil, without previously soaking them in water, for months before blending them with the other ingredients. So be patient if you want to opt for this method. I only waited for a few hours .
I boiled the oil to minimize any risk of contamination. Also make sure to store the harissa in the refrigerator.
You can omit beet if you want to make a more authentic harissa. I think it adds a nice texture, color and natural sweetness to the paste. I sometimes also add carrots or tomato pulp if I don't have beets.
I used the remaining roasted beets for a salad.
Every time you eat some harissa from the jar, don't forget to drizzle a little olive oil on top of the remainder to prevent the harissa from browning and to keep it fresh before storing it back in the refrigerator.Published By: on October 17, 2009.