A sauce from the past yet living for the future? Check out this Harissa recipe to bath in the present days of culinary culture!
Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste juiced up with some tomato sauce then enhanced with some spices and herbs.
It may sound like another hot sauce from the land of chilies but harissa was born a bit further from the shores of the Americas.
Although all peppers came from the “New World,” since the beginning of the 16th century a lot have happened to their genetic buildup due to the Columbian exchange that kickstarted however slowly, globalization.
Apparently, Vikings discovered the Americas first but they didn’t make such a fuss about it nor cared for establishing a global trading network to bring hence and forth spices, sugar or slaves. Their sporadic northern American settlements were abandoned by the time the Conquistadores arrived at the Caribbean.
Thanks to the excellent communication skills, negotiation techniques the Spanish employed at the time, backed up by military superiority, goods like potato, cocoa and gold soon started to flow out of the continent towards the Old world.
In Europe, where an occasional famine and scurvy was part of the everyday life, people were eager to try out new things to improve their quality of life. As weird as it sounds but potato, that nowadays due to French fries have a pretty tattered reputation, thanks to its vitamin c content, virtually eliminated scurvy in Irland once it was introduced.
Of course, there were some hiccups, such as the introduction of cassava to Africa where the lack of proper instructions regarding its preparations caused nutritional deficiencies and some deaths but things got sorted out eventually.
Other plants, that made the journey through the big pond, like peppers, found their new home so agreeable and the culture so tending, that they developed into something never seen before. The Hungarian Paprika, Italian Friggitello or the Tunisian Baklouti are all came from the same place yet turned into something uniquely different.
The past five hundred years gave opportunities for countless recipes not just to incorporate but to base their existence on the particular flavors of such varieties.
Accurately recreating recipes without such exact ingredients with subtle difference in flavor, is always a challenge, and straight impossible for purists, but we can get close enough thanks to the proximity of the myriad of spices and herbs available in our interconnected world.
Not like making harissa would be set into stone being Tunesia’s main condiment. Every household has their own recipes with slight variations of ingredients and flavors with specific additions for different dishes like poultry, beef, goat, lamb, or fish.
So, if we find trouble getting Baklouti for our Harissa worry not too much and simply use the next best dried chili available.
The word Harissa itself means “to break into pieces” which refers to the pounding of chilies into small bits which we can also do if we have a mortar and pestle readily available for our use. Of course, if we are less inclined to endlessly rubbing two pieces of stone together simply using our favorite food processor to make our labor quick and hassle free, will be fine too.
What matters is not how we have found Harissa but how we will be remembered serving our own so let our experience from the past be our guide creating our future.
- 2 pieces / 50g Dried Hot chili pepper or more to taste (Guajillo, Chipotle, Arbol…)
- 2 large / 200g Red peppers
- 1 teaspoon / 1g Cumin (whole)
- 1 teaspoon / 1.5g Coriander (whole)
- 3 cloves / 12g Garlic
- 4 tablespoons / 50g Tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon / 2g Paprika
- ½ piece / 20g Lemon’s juice
- 1 teaspoon / 5g Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons / 15g Extra virgin olive oil
How to make Harissa
- Remove stem and seeds then soak the dried chilies so we’ll we able to make paste from them instead of just cracked up pieces. Alternatively use fresh chili peppers.
- Roast the red peppers in the oven or in a skillet until soft. Try not to burn them much. Burnt food is not healthy at all. Alternatively use canned roasted peppers.
- Grind cumin and coriander. Using freshly ground spices and herbs always provides superior results.
- Put soaked chili peppers, roasted peppers, ground coriander and cumin, garlic, tomato sauce, paprika, lemon’s juice, salt and extra virgin olive oil into a food processor.
- Give them a whirl until there is a uniform paste is achieved. Jar harissa sauce and keep it in the fridge for about 6 days.
What is harissa made of?
Harissa is a hot chili sauce that is made of hot chili pepper, garlic, cumin, coriander, tomato, paprika, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
What does harissa taste like?
Harissa has a unique flavor profile thanks to its unique ingredients and a mix of spices such as coriander and cumin.
What is the equivalent of harissa paste?
There is no equivalent of harissa paste as it is a blend of hot pepper, tomato with various spices and herbs. If recipe calles for harissa paste though, we can simply use a bit of hot sauce with a dash of tomato.
What is harissa called in English?
Harissa’s literal translation is “to pound into pieces” but it doesn’t really reflects the true nature of this condiment. Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste and called Harissa in English.
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