Harissa is a North African chili paste that’s becoming ever more popular in the United States.
(Sadly, other parts of the world have known about its beautiful richness much longer than us.) It’s a combination of roasted red (bell) and chili peppers as well as spices.
While not explicitly hot, Harissa can be as potent as you would like it to be. Though it originated in Tunisia, Harissa has spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East – and it’s associated with the entire region rather than an individual country’s cuisine.
Plenty of recipes call for Harissa explicitly such as tagines, baked lamb or fish, and even grilled prawns. As it’s a paste, it can be used as everything from a marinade to the base for a slow-cooked sauce. You can also add it to hummus for a deeper flavor or paint it on vegetables before placing them under the broiler.
Now, you’re likely to find Harissa in local stores (albeit those with specialty items or everything under the sun), but this paste is even better when you make it yourself. Here’s how you do it.
1 large Red bell pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons Olive oil
3 each Red chilies, minced (pick your favorite)
1 small Red onion, minced
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Tomato paste
1/2 each Lemon, halved to squeeze out the juice
Salt to taste
Preheat your oven broiler. Place peppers on a tray and broil for 15 minutes, turning with tongs, until the skin is uniformly charred and the flesh has softened. Remove pepper and transfer to a heavy resealable plastic bag to allow it to cool. Then, peel the pepper under cold running water, discard the peel and seeds and place it into a food processor.
While the pepper cools, place a dry skillet over low heat and toast the cumin and coriander for 1 minute. Scrape spices from the skillet into the food processor.
Heat the oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the chilies, onion, garlic, and cook, stirring almost constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the food processor along with the tomato paste and lemon juice. Whizz until a smooth paste form, season with salt, and scoop into a glass jar to store in the fridge.
Tips from the Pros
Don’t use the hottest peppers you can find. Jalapeños are perfectly acceptable, and you don’t want to overpower the over flavors in your Harissa paste.
Take your time; there is no reason to rush this recipe. Spend time putting everything together before you start cooking.
As long as you store Harissa in an airtight container, it will keep for about two weeks – though it’s unlikely to last that long.