Harissa is a spicy, North African condiment made from chiles, served with couscous, potatoes, soups and stews.
If you’re wondering what gift to bring to a holiday dinner, or to a holiday gift exchange with friends and family, nothing is more personal and savored than something from your kitchen. This week I’m bringing harissa.
Even the name sounds exotic, like a belly dancer sheathed in diaphanous veils dancing for a caliph in ancient times.
But no. While it does hail from Tunisia, where there may be belly dancers, harissa is actually an exotic little condiment found on almost any table in the Northern African countries of Morocco, Algeria Libya and Tunisia; arguably as common as ketchup and mustard are in America. And she’s not shy, but dances boldly alongside couscous with chili pepper spiciness.
From the time North African women are young girls, they learn their family’s recipe for harissa, which commonly includes combinations of cumin, garlic, coriander, caraway, lemon juice or vinegar, and olive oil with the chili peppers, and occasionally dried mint. Over generations, families, towns, and regions tweaked this condiment to put their own stamp on it for soups, stews, curries, and meats.
My version is a little less spicy since I use mostly mild ancho (or pasilla) dried peppers and roasted tomatoes and carrots. I add a few chiles d’arbol for heat, and dried chipotle pepper for smoke, but you can eliminate either or both of these and substitute a couple additional dried ancho chilies if you prefer. All of the dried chilies I used were readily available in most of my local stores, but I did include one ingredient that may not be as common: dried tomatoes. I don’t mean sun-dried, packed in oil. The dried tomatoes I used are from Enduring Sun and are dried little cherry tomato disks that have a hint of paprika in their flavor. I love to grind them up and throw them on casseroles, in soups, or vegetable tarts. If you don’t have any, you can omit this ingredient without making any other adjustments, but you might want to consider getting some. They make a wonderful addition to any pantry, as does this harissa.
I use harissa in everything from soups and stews to pasta and vegetable casseroles. It’s also great with meats – especially lamb. In fact I would wager that if you make this, you’ll be surprised at how fast it disappears!
- 1 lb 5 ounces medium-sized tomatoes 13 medium
- 2 large carrots
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 10 dried ancho chiles
- 3 chiles de arbol
- 1 dried chipotle chile
- 1 tablespoon dried tomatoes see notes!
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon caraway seed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons sherry wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the tomatoes in half and place them on the baking sheet, cut side facing up. Drizzle a little olive oil over them, and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 2 hours or until the top surface of the tomatoes is puckered and somewhat dry. Remove and set aside.
- Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. Slice off the tops of the carrots, and quarter them lengthwise. Toss in a little olive oil, lightly sprinkle with salt, and lay on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the carrots over and roast for another 15 minutes. The carrots should be slightly caramelized. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Bring one quart of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Remove from the heat, and add all of the dried chiles to the hot water. Place the lid on the pot and let the chiles soak for one hour, or until soft. Remove from the water, tear off the tops and remove the seeds. Set aside.
- Combine the dried tomatoes (if using), coriander seed, caraway seed and kosher salt in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle and grind to a coarse powder.
- Combine the roasted tomatoes, carrots, softened chiles, and ground spices in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and whirl like crazy until a thick paste develops. Add the vinegar, olive oil and water and whirl again until completely incorporated.
- Store in an airtight jar covered with a little olive oil in the refrigerator