If you like your food spicy, you’ll almost certainly love harissa, a hot pepper chilli paste. It’s got a deeper flavour than just chilli – you get a spicy hit backed by garlic and lemon. Sometimes it’s sweet and smoky. It can be blow-your-head-off hot but it takes its time, and tends to be earthier than fresh chilli or flakes.
Harissa powder is the ground spice blend of the spicy, earthy North African paste with a base of smoked chilis peppers. It can be used as a dry rub on meats or as a spice in place of any other spice blend in your favorite recipe, such as tacos, tagines, braised meats, curries, or even tofu. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month, or until the expiration date of any of the single ingredients, if earlier.
While every region has its own variation and take on the paste, it’s particularly associated with Tunisia.
The Spanish occupation of Tunisia in the 16th century is thought to have begun the spread of its influence around the world. Today, it’s estimated that a quarter of the world’s population eat harissa in any single day.
If you’re not familiar with harissa, it’s a hot chili pepper paste made up of hot chili peppers and spices such as garlic, coriander seeds, or caraway seeds, as well as some vegetable or olive oil for preservation.
I love using this harissa spice mix as a rub for steaks, chicken, or even a meaty fish. Or use it simply as additional spice for soups, spreads, and dips. I love having the harissa seasoning blend to sprinkle over my popcorn, fries, toasted chickpeas, or nuts. It adds all kinds of flavor and revamps things I eat all the time.
8 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
8 dried chilis de arbol, stemmed and seeded
8 dried Thai chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp caraway seeds
½ tsp multi-colored whole peppercorns
2 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked salt
Remove and discard stems and seeds from dried chillis if you favour a milder version. Slice chillis in half or quarters, if they are large.
Heat a heavy based pan over medium-low heat. Add the chillis and heat through to ensure all the moisture has evaporated. Remove and place on a rack to cool. Place cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, and peppercorns to pan. Stir seeds and toast until fragrant but not burning, about 3 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
Grind chillis and toasted seeds with a mortar and pestle into a coarse powder. Add smoked paprika, garlic powder, smoked salt, parsley, and oregano. Continue to blend until all spices are completely combined and pulverized.
Choose chillis that suit your taste. The only constant is that they be smoked. If you can find smoked, dried serrano peppers, and you like spicy, try those. Ideally, baklouti peppers from North Africa are the pepper to use. The dried version can be found in specialty grocery stores and are worth the investment. Smoked Hungarian peppers are quite flavorful, not spicy, and also easily found in specialty stores but are very similar to smoked paprika–almost sweet.
If you want to use the Harissa powder, just mix it with oil and garlic (and rosewater if you prefer a sweeter, more delicate spice hit). If you’re really into your chillies, start from scratch with a mix of dried chillies, salt and oil.
The best thing about making your own harissa is that once you’ve nailed the basics, you can mix and match spices to create your own blend, depending on your preference and what you have in the cupboard.
Some recipes call for coriander, paprika or cumin. Others suggest caraway seeds or even mint. It’s totally up to you.
Whizz everything in a food processor until you’ve formed a paste and adjust to taste as you go. You can use it straight away but as with most spicy pastes, it’s best if you can leave it in the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to develop. It’ll keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks.
Here are some ways to use harissa:
Mix harissa with grains or couscous. One of the most popular ways to use harissa is to season a couscous with it.
Use harissa for roasting vegetables.
Rub harissa into your meat for roasting.
Cook your meats in harissa flavored sauce.
Add harissa to your Shakshuka
Add harissa to your kebab mix
Mix in to your curry sauce.
Try with yogurt, hummus, mayonnaise or salad dressings.
A spoonful in Pasta is delicious!
Amazing in fried rice and pulao!
If you struggle to source the different chillies use 10 dried Asian chillis and add more smoked paprika.
Dried chillies can be sourced via The Herb and Spice Emporium.
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