North African Harissa
A friend of mine was telling me about her favorite roast chicken dish, which requires slathering a whole chicken with harissa and olive oil before roasting. Sounds absolutely lovely – spicy, a bit tart and salty, with crispy skin. She mentioned that, to make it, she picked up pre-fab harissa from the grocery store, so I investigated. It’s upwards of $8 per bottle – exorbitant, I think. It’s too easy to do at home and can be done for a fraction of the cost, so I’m giving you a delicious, homemade version.
Harissa is a hot chili paste that is a staple in North African cuisines, especially in Tunisian and Algerian foods. Just like recipes in other cultures, harissa ingredients vary from household to household and region to region – some include cumin, others tomatoes, and even rose petals. Yes, “rose” harissa – how amazing does that sound. In Tunisia, harissa is served with every meal – as a condiment, rubbed on meats, incorporated into stews, mixed in with couscous…
Tunisians use Nabeul and Gabes peppers, which are hotter but similar in flavor to readily available Anaheim and Guajillo chilies here in the States. Dried chilies have more complex flavor than fresh, so dried are typically used. This recipe is for a milder harissa because I like to use it as a salad dressing base and mixed in with mayo on sandwiches; I tend to add fresh or pickled chilies to those, so I want to control my heat. But you can make this harissa as spicy as you want – I add urfa chilies for heat and a bit of smokiness, but chipotles would also be wonderful here, as would dried, hot Indian chilies if you want it even hotter. Enjoy!
Yields ½ cup
3 New Mexican / Anaheim medium-sized dried red chilies
4 Guajillo medium-sized chilies
2 tsps crushed red pepper or Urfa Biber chilies
1 tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 ½ tsps ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 sundried tomatoes (packed in oil or rehydrated)
2 garlic cloves
Remove seeds and ribs from the dried chilies and place in a heat-safe bowl. I like to use kitchen scissors for this – it’s easy to just split them open and brush out the seeds / pull out the ribs. Pour boiling water over chilies and let them soak 15 – 20 minutes until softened.
You can do this in either a food processor or a blender. If you are doing this in the food processor, use a spice grinder to grind the crushed red peppers or urfa chilies, caraway seeds, fennel seeds and saffron first before adding those to the food processor. If working with a blender, add those ingredients first and blend until ground before moving on to the next step – it’s like one big spice grinder.
Add ground coriander, turmeric, salt, sundried tomatoes, and garlic cloves. Remove chilies from water and wring out any excess moisture. Add to the blender or food processor. Pulse adding olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, until a thick paste is achieved and all of the chilies have been ground up. Add lemon juice to taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Transfer to a jar and cover harissa with a layer of olive oil to preserve it. Keep refrigerated. It will keep for up to a month in the fridge.