How to Make Harissa
I remember my first kiss, experienced at an embarrassingly young age. I remember my graduation day and how my mother’s eyes sparkled with tears of joy. I remember many of the intense moments in my life. And I remember my first spicy food; it must have been an intense moment as well.
Harissa, the chili pepper paste trendy nowadays among chefs on Food Network and everywhere, was how I had my baptism of the heat. Compared to the feisty Thai green curry I had a few weeks ago (which the waiter described as mild–LOL), harissa is lukewarm at best. Moroccan spicy is more flavorful spicy than hot spicy; and harissa is just that: a very flavorful condiment with a bit of a kick. I have always considered harissa spicy; but spicy can be very relative, as I discovered when I first moved to the US and swallowed a spoonful of wasabi that I mistook for avocado puree at a Japanese restaurant. I nearly lost my breath from that. Spicy took a whole new meaning for me that day and I never ceased to discover how relative spicy can be.
I use harissa to spike my tagines, marinades or as a spread on sandwiches, alone or mixed with mayo. I usually buy it at the local Middle Eastern market; but when they don’t have it, I prefer to make it at home rather than drive to the market on the other end of town or wait a couple of days for it to be shipped from Amazon. It is worth the drive and deserving of the wait, but I can’t wait for the day when it is carried by mainstream grocery stores alongside ketchup and mustard. I know that day will come. Until then, I shall continue making mine.
12 fresh red chili peppers, stems and seeds removed (or 24 dried ones, presoaked in hot water for 1 hour and drained)
5 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Blend the chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor until smooth.
Season the harissa paste with salt, cumin, and coriander. Transfer to a jar and top with a layer of olive oil. Close the jar tightly and refrigerate. It will keep for up to 6 weeks.