A few weeks ago I was gifted with a wonderful pot of red gold. I was having a discussion with a new co-worker and the conversation turned to food… as it inevitably does. I had given her a welcome gift of some of my macarons and she asked me if I liked spicy food and if I had ever tried harissa. Her fiancee was making a batch and she promised to bring me in a jar, emphasizing that “a little bit goes a loooong way!”
To be honest, what came to mind was a blend of dried spices, I was not expecting a deep red paste. I could not wait to get it home and try it on something, all the while remembering her words of caution. When I opened the jar my senses were awakened by the fresh pungent scent of garlic and peppers and that unmistakeable “heat”. How enticing…
Once home I dipped the tip of a spoon into the golden elixir and… yeah, it certainly was HOT but oh so tasty. Now what should I but it on, or mix it into? My co-worker had said that they love swirling a bit with olive oil and then dip bread into it. You can spice up a stir fry, add a spoonful to a big pot of soup or add it to a marinade. If you are used to hot foods why not spread a bit on your burger? Or in the words of my co-worker: “We put that s@$* on everything.” Hmmm… that tagline sounds familiar….
It was an amazing blend of red peppers, hot peppers garlic, olive oil…. what else though… what else? I did a bit of research on the web and found a great variety of recipes. Some with very few ingredients and others with a long list of spices and ingredients. You can reconstitute your favourite spicy dried peppers or use fresh ones. Just like any recipe, you use what you prefer, or what you are familiar with, but if you want to be adventurous … why not try something new or someone else’s variation?
My first adventure with harissa was going to be on my pizza. I was going to make another Fish Taco inspired Pizza, but this time I decided to substitute turkey sausage and add some guacamole on top. I lightly scraped a bit of harissa on the pizza crust and added the rest of the ingredients… what a wonderful bite of heat.
Before I harass my co-worker for their harissa recipe, I thought I would attempt a version of my own:
3 cloves of garlic
30 ml (2 tblsp) lemon juice
120 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
5 red peppers (roasted and peeled, stem and seeds removed once cooled)
5 ancho poblano dried peppers
10 ml (1 tsp) cumin
1 handful cilantro
- Rehydrate dried ancho poblano peppers by pouring boiling water over them. You may have to add a bowl or small plate over them so that they are submerged under water. Let them steep for 1 hour. Remove seeds and stems.
- Put all ingredients in food processor and blend.
- Place in jars and cover with a bit of olive oil.
I ended up with 5 jars which I labelled and put in the freezer with my Freezer Basil Pesto. You don’t have to freeze your harissa as it will keep in the fridge for several months as long as you keep adding olive oil to the top once you’ve dipped into the jar.
Now mine did not taste the same. It has a sweeter taste since I had roasted red peppers and re-hydrated poblano peppers and there was a slight bitterness that I’m not sure I like. My version also had a lot less heat so it was definitely because of the type of dried peppers that I used, and I should have soaked them for more than just 1 hour. The flavour and heat of your harissa all depends on the type of pepper, or blend of peppers, that you choose to use. Some recipes I googled even had tomato paste, so there are clearly a LOT of possibilities. I will definitely be playing around with my version.
Back in the office I was pleased to receive another jar, this time bigger (since I had brought in a larger jar and threw in a jar of my pesto) and I did manage to get the recipe BUT I cannot share the quantities. I don’t even know what type of dried pepper was used. Maybe if I get enough comments and likes I can convince them to reveal the entire recipe.
As a matter of fact, I’m going to try to convince them to submit it to President’s Choice. I think it would be a great addition to their food line especially in the frozen section where they have frozen herbs in small ice cube tray sizes.
For now, this is all I can reveal about their recipe:
Hot peppers (any kind as long as they are red)
Extra virgin olive oil
salt / pepper
white vinegar (as a preservative)
- Soak the pepper 24/48 hrs
- Remove stems from peppers (if they have any) and blend with remaining ingredients.
- Pour into jars and add a layer of olive oil
- Keep in the fridge. Will last for months as long as you keep adding a bit of oil to your jar each time to remove some.
Super easy and only 4 ingredients but the quantities depend on how many peppers you use, how much garlic you like in a recipe and how much olive oil you will need to get just the right texture (a thick paste, not runny).
- fish and seafood have a natural affinity with harissa
- stir the paste into seafood stews
- add to soups
- heat up your grilled veggies
- spread it over salmon fillets and grill until crisp
- swirl a generous spoonful through yoghurt to make a spicy marinade or dip
- add to mayo for a spicy aioli
- add to pasta, rice
- everything ~ anything… even chocolate!
Treat harissa as an alternative to chilli paste and spice up your recipes!