RC: Harissa
Posted by Craig, Montreal on Jan 08, 2000 at 23:49:41
There is no definitive recipe for harissa, the spicy condiment that is a staple of North African and Middle Eastern cooking and has recently gained favour with European chefs. Although readily available in tubes and cans, it is exceedingly easy to make and, of course, tastes best when homemade. The following recipe for harissa in its simplest form comes from Patricia Wells at Home in Provence.


3 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons ground cayenne
Fine sea salt to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place the cumin in a spice mill and grind to a fine powder. In a small bowl combine the cumin, cayenne, and a pinch of salt. Toss to blend evenly. Slowly add the olive oil and whisk to blend. Taste for seasoning.

Yield: About 6 tablespoons

• Flavour melding: If at all possible, make the harissa a day in advance to give the flavours time to meld.
• Quantities and storage: The above recipe makes a small amount (Wells says she makes it fresh whenever she needs it). You can easily expand the recipe and store the harissa, covered with olive oil, in a glass jar in the refrigerator. It also freezes well.
• Spice mill: If you don't have one, use a mortar and pestle. The results will be slightly grainier than mechanically ground but not inferior.
• Peppers: Instead of or in addition to the cayenne, use other small fresh or dried hot red peppers. Grind or purée them and procede as in the recipe.
• Garlic: Garlic is frequently included in harissa. For the above recipe, peel and degerm a small clove, purée it or pound it with a mortar and pestle, and add it to the bowl.
• Spices and herbs: Cumin is a common thread in nearly all harissas; for an interesting variation, lightly toast the seeds before grinding them. Many harissas also include ground corriander seeds. Others include ground caraway. Dried mint or verbena as well as fresh basil sometimes find their way into harissa.

• To flavour couscous. Thin the harissa with stock or with olive oil and lemon juice.
• For basting. brush on grilled meats, poultry, fish or vegetables (if desired, thin with olive oil and lemon juice). Or use some to baste your next lamb or pork roast.
• As a sandwhich spread. For example, halve half a baguette lengthwise; on the bottom half pile drained tuna (preferably whole tuna packed in olive oil); at intervals place pitted Moroccan olives; spread a streak of harissa down the top half of the bread; enjoy.
• As a condiment. A bowl at the table can be used to spice up hot or cold meats, vegetables, soups, beans and pasta dishes.
• To season olives. In a bowl put 2 cups top-quality brined black olives, drained, and 2 or more tablespoons harissa. Toss to blend. Store in a covered jar in the refigerator for at least 24 hours or as much as a month.
• To stupidify hommos. For a Moroccan twist, Yaniger sez to add a little harissa and a few pureed raisins.