Harissa is popular spicy chili sauce or paste, often used as a condiment and also added to meat dishes, stews, couscous, sauces and even in breakfast dishes. This is a very popular Tunisian condiment made with pepper paste which is sure to add an extra kick to just about anything and it is widely use in Tunisian cuisine.
Harissa is a hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa, traditionally made with piri piri (a type of chili pepper), Serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers and spices such as garlic paste, coriander, red chili powder, and caraway and some vegetable or olive oil. These are the standard ingredients used in North African cuisine to prepare this incredibly spicy sauce. This sauce is more closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria and later on made its way into Moroccan cuisine.
Generally the Harissa is served with fish and seafood sauce. Hummus and harissa sauce is also a popular combo popularly found in Morocco. Generally Moroccan food is said to be more sweet and savory, but not sweet and spicy. It was like we foreigners who would actually find the food a little bland and use Harissa sauce for that spicy kick. Of recent times, Moroccans use harissa that is drizzled over couscous or dollop into soups and stews. The flavor of cumin, coriander and garlic bring an excellent taste to the spicy paste. Harissa is made in different versions as per the family’s taste.
As with any similar recipe, there are countless variations using many different combinations of fresh, roasted, boiled, and dried chili peppers. Same goes for the spice, but this recipe with the blend of ingredients listed below makes it an excellent dish. Dried mint really has a unique and much different flavor than the fresh herb, and toasting the caraway and coriander does wonderful things with its aroma and nutritional benefits
In Tunisia, harissa is used as an ingredient in meat (goat or lamb) or fish stew with vegetables, and as a flavoring for couscous. It is also used for lablabi, a popular chickpea soup usually eaten for breakfast. In the West it may be eaten with pasta, in sandwiches or on pizza. In some European countries it is popular as a breakfast spread for tarts or rolls.
Harissa paste can be also used as a rub for meat or aubergines. Couscous is a staple food throughout Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya; hence harissa is quite commonly used with this amazing dish. Harissa is simple and easy to prepare sauce at home. This spicy sauce is also readily available in many grocery stores. Tunisia is said to be one of the biggest exporter of pre-made harissa. Lately harissa is used as a pasta sauce and also try using meatballs braised in harissa. Generally the flavor and heat level of harissa varies depending on how it’s made as recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. It gives a nice smoky flavor from the roasted red peppers.
To prepare this beautifully red colored Harissa spicy sauce, firstly fire roast 2 red bell peppers, peel and deseed and keep aside. Roast ¼ to ½ tsp caraway seeds, ¼ to ½ tsp coriander seeds and powder in the blender and keep aside.
Place 6 to 7 red fresno chilies (whole), 1 habanero (whole) and 4 to 5 garlic cloves peeled in a bowl with boiling water and allow cooking until the chilies are softened. You can use one variety or a combination like ancho, guaijillo, chipotle, etc.
Once chiles are softened, cut top off the chile and remove the seeds from inside the chiles. Add to the food processor or blender, the chilies, garlic, ground caraway and coriander seeds powder, 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp dried mint, except salt and oil. Add two tablespoons of reserved chile water. Purée, slowly pouring in the 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, added to blender at the very end – do not blend more than a few seconds or else it give a bitter taste. This just helps to emulsify and thicken mixture (Note: All of the oil may not be needed.).
Season to taste with 1 tsp kocher salt, juice of 1 lemon and mix well. The harissa can be refrigerated for a few weeks.
Do try this chili sauce at your home and use it as pizza sauce, sandwich spread, steak sauce, chicken marinade etc. It is a magical product that can go with anything you wish to put on J (don’t get carried away by the color as it’s not tomato sauce, be careful as it would be fiery hot).