Easy Homemade Harissa
Harissa is the king of North African condiments. It’s a spicy, garlicky chilli paste that brightens any meal, and it’s super quick and easy to make at home.
Confronted with COVID 19 lockdowns, many of us are cooking out of our pantries and freezers. While this situation may be frustrating, it’s also an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen. Not being able to run to the supermarket forces us to innovate and adapt in order to keep our meals fresh, fun, and exciting.
When confronted with limited ingredients, creative condiments are an easy way to keep meals interesting and different. Of all the sauces, pickles, relishes and chutneys in my fridge, none gets more play than the innumerable chilli pastes. Of these, harissa is far and away my favourite.
Long before sriracha became a household name and the go-to condiment on most of our tables, there was harissa. This classic North African condiment has been readily available in most supermarkets for as long as I can remember.
However, supermarket harissa is often disappointing. It tends to be a bland combination of heat and tomato paste, which is decidedly uninteresting.
Homemade harissa, on the other hand, is complex and exciting. Its rich aroma and bright flavours enhance everything they touch. It’s perfect for swirling into mayo, dolloping into vinaigrette, drizzling into soup, or simply adding to your plate at mealtime.
Unlike other hot sauces, harissa adds more than just heat. Rather, it provides complex layers of flavour that complement and enhance the other foods on your plate.
Best of all, harissa is quick, easy and inexpensive to make at home. Whole spices, olive oil, and garlic are ground with dried chilies to create a versatile, flavour enhancing condiment that is positively addictive.
What Else Can I Make with Harissa?
|Spicy Maghrebi Corn on the Cob|
|10-Minute Spicy Broccolini with Lemon Juice|
|Ful Medames, A Hearty Egyptian Breakfast Treat|
|Spicy Carrots with Harissa Yogurt|
About this Recipe
This is a very simple recipe with few ingredients. Hence, each flavour really needs to shine.
However, that doesn’t mean you should whip out your most expensive olive oil. Rather go for a mid-range, extra virgin olive oil with a mild, fruity, balanced flavour. The finer notes in a premium olive oil are better appreciated in dishes where the oil’s flavour can really shine.
Harissa, like so many condiments that have been endlessly adapted by cooks throughout a region, is not a fixed recipe. Rather, there is a range of flavours and each cook — indeed each family — blends ingredients to suit their personal tastes.
Personally, I am not a fan of caraway. So, I relegate caraway to a background note, pushing forward the flavours of the coriander and cumin seeds.
On the other hand, I adore garlic. So, I ramp the garlic flavour up with 4 cloves.
However, you should feel free to adjust the spices, and the quantity of garlic, to your tastes. If you’re less fond of garlic or coriander seeds, use less of them. I encourage you to play with the flavours until you achieve a balance that’s pleasing to your own family’s palate.
Tips for Grinding Harissa
The only trick to this recipe is grinding the harissa to the texture you prefer. I use a high speed blender. However, I’ve ground harissa (with wonderful results) in a food processor for years. You can also grind it — more authentically, in fact — in a mortar and pestle. The key is to achieve the consistency you like. Personally, I enjoy a bit of texture. So, I leave my harissa slightly chunky. However, you should feel free to adjust the grind to your own taste.
In addition, you may wish to reserve a little of the chilli soaking water to add it to your blender or food processor a tablespoon at a time while grinding. I find that –depending on the device, the humidity, and the freshness of your garlic — it can sometimes take a bit of extra liquid to bring the harissa paste together.
I genuinely hope this feisty chilli paste enriches your family’s lockdown meals and that your family enjoys it every bit as much as mine does. Bon appétit!