Bold, robust and just really very useful

Love that fiery shade

I love the way the word ‘harissa’ glides off your tongue in fact; I think this is what first attracted me towards this North African specialty. Based purely on the way it sounds, I thought for the longest time that this might be an elegant, subtly flavoured sauce or dip even though I’d seen that it was a fiery red when I saw a food show on Moroccan cuisine. But when I tasted it at a Mediterranean restaurant some years ago, I was in for a surprise – bold, robust and fierce are just some of the adjectives I’d use to describe Harissa.
Again misconception reared its ugly head and I was under the impression that one would need some exotic ingredients or worse, an elaborate procedure to make this at home. But when I was leafing through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat: The Principles Of Good Food, I spied on this recipe for Harissa. I did a double take. Rubbed my eyes. Read it again. And again. It was so simple! Just a handful of ingredients that I was sure would be there at home. Still, I couldn’t believe it because I didn’t think it would be that simple.
That familiar itch took over, the one where you’ve seen something and you want to run to the kitchen and make it right away, so I went and pulled out all the ingredients necessary.  And as the chillies were soaking I was thinking what I’d do with all the Harissa – should I use it as a dip? Or maybe make some chicken skewers? Should I use it to make a nice, hearty soup? I couldn’t make up my mind. I wanted to do them all. And guess what? I did! *big grin* Yup, that’s right. But it wasn’t at the same time, otherwise we would be calling in the fire engines *wink*, because I had a glass jam jar full of Harissa I used it to marinate some lovely, fresh chicken, added a dollop to my regular tomato soup and even used some to marinate some Bassa a month later! I did little twists in each of the final dishes but that smoky, fiery flavour remained throughout and it was a huge hit every time. Now I’m considering making this in larger batches and storing it because it is just so, so useful and also because it makes for a yumm topping with some cheesespread or butter for toasts or crackers. Just yumm!
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s recipe
There are various versions of making Harissa, some include a red bell pepper, a knob of ginger, etc. but this is the simplest I know of and it works well for me. The original recipe didn’t call for the limejuice but I added it because it helped to balance the fierceness of the chillies.
55 gms of dry red chilli, I used the Byadgi variety from Karnataka, with stems removed
2 tbsp of coriander seeds
1 tbsp of cumin seeds
2 tsp of caraway seeds
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup of water, boiled
1 tsp of limejuice
2 tbsp of olive oil
Salt to taste
Soak the red chillies in the water, cover and keep it aside for about an hour.

Colour me red
Meanwhile, dry-roast the coriander, caraway and cumin seeds until they turn a light golden brown. Keep them aside to cool down.Coarsely powder this in the mixie or go traditional and do it in the mortar and pestle, I chose the latter and I find that process extremely satisfying even helps to bust all that nasty stress!

Grinding the stress away!
Remove the soaked chillies from the water, make sure you’re wearing gloves or are washing your hands with soap regularly because these chillies can be quite dangerous, and blend them along with the roasted spices and garlic to form a smooth paste.
Add the olive oil while blending to get a smooth consistency. Add the limejuice and adjust the seasoning. Transfer all the contents into an airtight jar, drizzle some more olive oil, check the taste, put the lid on and store in the fridge.
  • Nigella Lawson recommends blending all the ingredients very finely but I like the roughness of the coarse seeds on my palate, so I don’t go that far.
  • If you intend preserving the Harissa, then add a dash of white vinegar to the paste when you transfer it into a air-tight jar. This will help you preserve it longer. Mine lasted for roughly over a month.
  • Apart from marinades, you can add a tsp of Harissa to soups, salad dressings or even sandwich spreads for a kick!
 I’m sending this to Exhibit Every Bite at Jiya’s Delicacy and also to SYF & HWS Series: Red Chilli which was started by Anu of Anu’s Healthy Kitchen and is being guest hosted by Sumee of Sumee’s Culinary Bites this month. 


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