This fiery paste, harissa, is known thoughout North Africa for its fiery and pungent taste and has well crossed its borders. It is served as a condiment, marinade or a dip for warm crusty bread. This is a basic harissa recipe, you can add your choice of spices and herbs such as fennel seeds, fresh coriander, mint and parsley leaves. Instead of using all fiery chillies I have substituted red bell pepper to mellow down the heat considerably. When I prepared harissa for the first time, I used all chillies with no bell pepper and it was so hot that I could hardly use a blob of it in any of my dishes. It gave so much of heat and with such a less amount not much flavour was locked in any of the dishes. So going through some recipes on net, I decided to make a paste using a mixture of red pepper and hot dried chillies. Fabulous, I would say. You can simply stir them in salads, use them to flavour meat, fish, prawns and even soups. It can also be stirred into tagines and couscous to impart a distinctive chilli taste. Harissa paste is now easily available in African and Middle Eastern stores as well some supermarkets and delicatessens. But this is so easy to make, tastes so fresh, why would you want to get one that is processed – My thought.
Preparation time : 10 minutes
Yields about 1/2 cup
- 6-8 hot red chillies, whole (Horn or New Mexico variety, but you can use any dried chilli you have in hand. I used the mild Indian Kashmiri chilli).
- 1 red pepper
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ teaspoon paprika (optional)
- ¼ cup olive oil
1. Soak dried chillies in warm water for about an hour to soften them. Drain a squeeze out any excess water. (I seed them and soak if the chillies are really spicy).
2. While the chillies are soaking, Place the red pepper in a baking tray. Grill/bake the capsicum until skin is all blistered, blackened and wrinkled. Peel them under running tap water, seed them, drain and set aside.
3. Warm a dry frying pan until it’s just beginning to show wisps of smoke, then throw in the caraway, coriander and cumin seeds. Remove the pan from the heat immediately, give it a shake and set aside. This helps unlock the flavour of the spice. Pound the seeds using a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder and set aside.
4. Place, soaked chillies, peeled capsicum, garlic in a blender and blend till smooth or coarse as per your liking adding little oil if necessary. (If you like your harissa paste to be chunky, you can use pestle and mortar instead of using a grinder). Tip it into a bowl and add paprika, pound spices and salt and mix well. Add in olive oil and mix.
Store the harisaa paste in a sealed jar in refrigerator and making sure there is a thin layer of oil on top all the time. This increases the shelf-life of harissa paste. It keeps well over a month and can be frozen.
Caraway seeds are quite similar to cumin seeds, but they are slightly longer than cumin seeds and a bit thinner, have a sweet aroma and is very much different from cumin seeds.