How many times have I been won over by a picture and new recipe only to discover it calls for harissa? Even in tiny amounts this Mediterranean pepper paste packs a bright and spicy punch. To leave out the harissa totally changes a dish, and usually not for the better. If you are like me, harissa never makes it to your shopping list. Even if it does, you are not likely to find harissa a common offering at your local grocery, depending on where you live, of course. The closest place for us to purchase harissa is two hours away. We needed another solution.
After some research I began to realize that there are as many harissa recipes as there are cooks to prepare it. How wonderful! You can come up with your own, which is what I did. The recipe below has been influenced by such stunning chefs as Anna Sortun and Yotam Ottolenghi. Reading through their recipes as well as a number of others, I began developing a sense of flavors and textures common to harissa mixtures.
The great breakthrough for me came when I made peace with the fact that we were in the dead of winter and sweet red peppers were not available…except in bottles. I am not one to indulge bottled peppers but I found these at a great discount and just went for it.
This harissa with a base of bottled red peppers got rave reviews. Finger-licking good! The debut was mid-February and the harissa tasted like mid-July. Glorious!
A time saver for me has been to double or triple the amount of harissa needed for a dish. The extra harissa gets frozen in ice cube trays, then transferred to freezer bags. It is so handy!
- 1 cup jarred sweet red peppers
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon caraway seed
- 2 tablespoons minced white onion
- 8 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 or three hot red chilis, minced (or substitute a teaspoon red pepper flakes), to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato powder mixed with 2 tablespoons of water or 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Drain and chop the peppers.
- Toast the coriander, cumin, and caraway in a dry skillet for one to two minutes until they begin to release their aroma. Set the seeds aside to cool while you mince the onion, garlic, and peppers.
- Grind the cooled seeds in spice grinder
- Sauté the onion and peppers in olive oil until just beginning to brown. Add the minced garlic and sauté for another minute or two. Be careful to not burn the garlic!
- Mix the tomato powder and water together. Stir in the lemon juice. I prefer the tomato powder to tomato paste because the tomato flavor is more intense. If you have no tomato powder, puree some sun-dried tomatoes that have been soaking in oil. Drain the oil and puree. That will also have good, intense tomato flavor.
- Place all of your ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times. You should have a creamy paste. Add more water or olive oil if the paste is thicker than you like. Pulse several more times if you want your harissa to be smooth rather than chunky.
Harissa is good for about 12-14 days if kept in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. To freeze it, follow the suggestion offered in the post above.