Spice up your life with this North African hot sauce.
Spice up your life with this North African hot sauce.
Photo by Saaleha Bamjee

Dish of the Week: Homemade Harissa

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re delving into the world of condiments with harissa.

Harissa is an aromatic, hot chile pepper paste that is popular in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, closely associated with the cuisines of Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Libya.

The history of the chile goes back thousands of years to ancient Mayans, Aztecs and Incas, who cultivated the pepper in Mexico and Peru. It wasn’t brought over to the Old World until the 15th and 16th centuries, during the Columbus Exchange. Soon, the chile spread though Europe and Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Africa, India and Southeast Asia, where harissa became popularized.

The thick, complex sauce can be made with a variety of chile peppers, including roasted or smoked red peppers, Tunisian Baklouti pepper and guajillo chiles, plus spices and herbs like garlic, coriander, cumin and caraway seeds, mint and olive oil. Other variations incorporate tomatoes, rose petals and lemon.

Harissa is traditionally used as the base of stews and curries, and today as a hot sauce for everything from grilled meat to sandwiches and pizza.

This recipe, from Saveur, uses a mix of guajillo and New Mexico chiles, plus toasted coriander, caraway and cumin.

Harissa

Ingredients makes 1 cup
8 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded (about 2 oz)
8 dried new mexico chiles, stemmed and seeded (about 1 1?2 oz)
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried mint leaves
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon

Directions
Put chiles into a medium bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit until softened, about 20 minutes. Heat caraway, coriander and cumin in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Toast spices, swirling skillet constantly, until very fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer spices to a grinder with the mint and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.

Drain chiles and transfer to the bowl of a food processor with the ground spices, olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon juice. Purée, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is very smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a sterilized 1-pint glass jar and fill with oil until ingredients are submerged by 1/2 inch. Refrigerate, topping off with more oil after each use. Harissa paste will keep for up to three weeks.

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