What are the odds that on the day before I planned to post something about the “Tabasco of Tunisia,” otherwise known as harissa, there would be a nice little NPR blog on the same subject? Well, there was, and here it is.
A spicy, brilliant red chili paste, harissa has been dubbed sriracha’s (aka rooster sauce) cousin as well as the mustard or ketchup of Africa, served just about everywhere on everything. The blend of red-chili-peppers, olive oil, coriander and sometimes, caraway is actually more far more nuanced than sriracha, infinitely more interesting than Tabasco, and as for ketchup? Meh. No resemblance.
Versions vary widely, of course. Some include mint and others add red bell pepper and tomato. The texture varies, too -- from a smooth paste to a chunkier version – as in Mustapha’s Moroccan Harissa, my favorite, made with dashes of red bell pepper and tomato in addition to the chili peppers. Bottom line, harissa delivers a complex heat – one that resonates rather than just knocking your tastebuds out.
I wish I could say I discovered a love of the fiery condiment while on an excursion on the back of a camel in an exotic setting, but, must admit my introduction was in the First World setting of Williams Sonoma where the jar of Mustapha’s just looked so pretty I bought one for a gift and one for me. I proceeded to become addicted – not an unusual reaction as far as I can tell.
What to do with harissa:
Mix with mayonnaise, spread on lamb burgers or hamburgers, along with piles of arugula. Or, on a sausage sandwich.
Stir into black bean soup or chile along with mascarpone or crema.
Add to a Bloody Mary, to taste
Mix into egg salad or deviled egg filling, and of course my standard, “on eggs!”
Use to flavor curries, stews, soups
Make this Moroccan style carrot salad I found on Chowhound:
Simmer slices of carrots in water with a bay leaf. Drain and combine with olive oil and harissa while still warm, then refrigerate. Serve at room temperature, garnished with any of the following: chopped mint, chopped cilantro, olives, feta, chopped preserved lemon.
Finally, if you want to make your own, here’s Claudia Roden’s recipe from The New Book of Middle-Eastern Food.2 ounces dried hot red chili peppers (stems and seeds removed)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon ground caraway
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
extra-virgin olive oil
Soak the chili peppers in water for 30 minutes, until soft. Drain and pound with the garlic, spices, and a little salt with a pestle and mortar, or blend in a food processor, adding just enough oil, by the tablespoon, to make a soft paste. Press into a jar and cover with oil.
This famous and formidable chili paste goes into many North African, especially Tunisian, dishes. It keeps very well for many weeks in the refrigerator of covered with oil.
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