Harissa is a North African condiment of chili and spices. I had never tried it and I thought I would buy a jar of commercial harissa to get an idea of how it was different from other chili pastes. I am afraid it was not a good introductory experience.
What I had bought was made with pure chilies and it was so hot that only an eight of a teaspoon in a dish made it too hot to eat. All you felt was the burn, no flavor. Since then, I have discovered that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Harissa does not have to be fiery hot. You can roast sweet red peppers and add just enough chilies to meet your own taste profile. It should have a bite, but you should be able to taste the other spices in the mix.
2 red bell peppers
2 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
1 tsp. cumin, toasted and finely ground
½ tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
½ tsp. caraway seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 Tbs. Pimentón (or hot paprika)
¼ tsp. Fleur de Sel (sea salt)
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 tsp.± Piri-piri (hot sauce made with North African Piri-piri chilies)
1. Rinse and broil the red peppers, 4 inches from the heating element, until well blackened on all sides, about 20 minutes.
Note: You should make the harissa several hours or the day before you plan to use it so that it has time to meld.
2. Put the peppers in a plastic bag to steam and cool for 20 minutes.
Tip: Steaming the peppers after roasting loosens the skins and make them a breeze to peel.
3. Peel and remove the seeds.
4. Mash the garlic and put them in a small bowl with the peppers.
Tip: The peppers will fall apart a bit as you are peeling them, but you do not really need to chop them up.
5. Toast the cumin, coriander, and caraway and grind them to a powder.
6. Add the ground spices, Pimentón, salt, and olive oil.
7. Process the ingredients into a course paste.
Tip: I use an immersion blender for this, because you can control how smooth or coarse your final product turn out. In a standing blender just a few seconds of processing produces a smooth puree. I think harissa should be a bit chunkier than that.
8. Stir in the Piri-piri one teaspoon at a time, until the mix is to your desired level of heat.
9. Serve on the side, so that your diners may add a bit of heat to any dish they desire.