How to Make Harissa

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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.

Harissa Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

Step 1: Blend the chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor until smooth.

Step 2: 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.

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