Harissa

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If any of you has noticed, I’ve been into a bit of name-calling lately. Namely, sauces, or condiments, from chimichurri to tapenade, to romesco to charmoula. To me, condiments make the world go ’round, and my life of eating revolves around them. I love them all.

Today I’m making harissa. It’s flavorful and versatile, and just like other global sauces and condiments, it’s easy to make. Furthermore, when made from scratch, it’s far superior in flavor.

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I actually think harissa might be my all-time favorite sauce. The base is roasted red bell peppers, so like it’s “cousin” romesco, it’s fabulous slathered on meats and breads with cheeses. But it’s also spicy, which puts it over the top for me.

The sauce originates from North Africa, which is probably why there are so many similarities between it and romesco. I’m not a food historian, but I know that the southern tip of Spain almost touches the northern tip of Africa. So I’m sure there’s been all kinds of sharing of ingredients and spices over the centuries of food trading. Tunisia is actually the country with which harissa is most commonly associated.

When I decided to make harissa from scratch, I found so many variations, not surprisingly, that I just came up with my own recipe, and this is what I’m posting today. I can’t possibly test out and taste all of the versions, but I can tell you that my adaptation is near perfection.

What is exciting is all of the potential uses for this sauce. Today I made up a little cumin-spiced lamb burger and used the harissa with mayonnaise for a lovely spicy condiment. But of course it can be used as is as well, on meats of any kind.

Harissa can also be added to vegetables, stews and soups, risottos, and so many more dishes. As long as the harissa shines. You want to taste this stuff because it’s that good.

So here’s what I did:

Harissa
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 roasted red bell peppers from a jar*
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 small purple onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup scant olive oil

First drain the red bell peppers well in a small colander.
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Next, place the seeds in a small seed toaster.

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Toast them on the stove; this will only take about 30 seconds so watch the toaster carefully. (Alternatively use a small skillet topped with a screen so that you can keep an eye on things.)
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Let them cool for a second, then place them in a small mortar. Grind them and set aside.

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Heat some of the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Have your onions and garlic ready to cook.
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Saute them for about 6-7 minutes; you want some caramelization on them.
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Set the skillet aside and let the onions and garlic cool slightly.

Meanwhile, place the well-drained roasted red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the ground seasoning mix, the tomato paste, the crushed red pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
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Then add the cooled onion and garlic.
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Add the remaining olive oil and begin processing. After a little bit, you will need to scrape down the sides of the jar and process further.
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Process for about another minute. The mixture will be smooth, but still have a little texture to it.
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As I mentioned above, I wanted to make a mayonnaise with the harissa today, to complement a lamb burger I was craving. So I simply mixed 1/2 harissa and 1/2 mayo together in a little bowl.
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Simply whisk the mayo and harissa together.
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And that’s it!
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I served it at room temperature with my lamb burger.
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When I mixed together the harissa and mayonnaise, the beautiful red color disappeared. But what doesn’t go away is the fabulous harissa flavor profile – roasted red bell peppers, the lovely seasonings, onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper.

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* You could also roast your own red bell peppers and peel off the skin, but I truly love the soft texture of jarred roasted red bell peppers. It’s your choice.

63 thoughts on “Harissa

  1. Recently picked up a jar of harissa and although it was lovely it was quite expensive. Looks easy enough to make and I bet it taste even better. Great post Mimi! Thank you for sharing the recipe. I love condiments too, they really do make the world go round. :)

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    • Thanks! I’m pretty sure it would freeze well, but it’s just so easy to make, especially if you don’t bother toasting the seeds and use ground spices. As far as how long it lasts, I have no idea. It has always disappeared way to fast. I imagine one month, though, to be safe.

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  2. I get such a kick out of you Mimi. You are a great cook and your blog is so entertaining. Love your variety. Today is my birthday and I woke up to your blog which put a smile on my face and zest in my step. Thanks for your amazing hard work and creativity. Just wish that I lived next door to you!! Yum!!
    xoPrudy Handelman

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  3. Looks gorgeous. I bet you make the best tangine’s. I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the ‘shine on award’. I left a message in your comments under the ‘About You’ section of your blog because I could not see a contact page. Emmaxx

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    • Hmmm. I like raw garlic, as long it’s mixed up with something, like pesto. If it sits too long it gets a nasty flavor from the oxidation, which is why I don’t even use jarred garlic, as convenient as that would be! Never thought about raw onions, though…

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  4. Isn’t Harissa a wonderful ingredient. My teenage son loves it so much he uses it in his toasted sandwiches and has been known to mix up a batch in the food processor when we run out. I love all the different variations I think every Morrocan grandma has her own secret recipe. Yours looks absolutely divine. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I use harissa imported from Moroco when making lobster in American sauce. It is indeed delicious. I don’t know if they make it like you do. It can’t be that different. Great post and beautiful burger!!

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  6. Thank you for this, Mimi. I’ve seen recipes for Harissa and the ingredients would send me on a scavenger hunt. I usually buy it from a shop that makes it on-site for quite a few of the restaurants in town. It’s very good but I’d love to make my own. I can and will now. :)

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    • Hmmm. Well I’m pretty sure what you can buy that’s made on site should be pretty top notch! But it would be way less expensive, most likely, to try it out at home. No exotic ingredients included!!!

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  7. This sauce is nice. I make also a sauce called harissa, hot sauce or paste from the maghreb and it is labour intensive using a grinder. The ingredients are somewhat different and you definitely could not spread so much on a burger. Cheers nice post

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  8. I’m sooo excited! I asked for – and received – a beautiful tangine for Christmas!! So many Moroccan or Tunisian recipes call for Harissa – and now you’ve provided me with an excellent recipe. Thanks !!!

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      • I am ‘hoping’ to use mine tomorrow!! ; o ) I’ve already had my tangine for two months…. It’s beautiful – white with blue designs, which looks very nice in my ‘redone’ kitchen’.. so now I have to DO something with it besides just admiring it !!

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