Saturday, May 19, 2007

red hot

harissa, the firey red pepper paste of north africa, holds an important place in sephardic jewish kitchens. used in all kinds of dishes, you will find it being featured most often in couscous preparations, meat and fish dishes, soups and stuffed vegetables (mahshi). in israel, it is often used in falafel sandwiches to give a spicy zing.

there are different ways of making harissa, many families having their own blend of peppers and spices. typically, one uses dried red chilies which are reconstituted in very hot water. the main spices used to make this condiment are coriander seeds, caraway and sometimes cumin. some people will add roasted red peppers but i prefer not to do this. the finished harissa should be used sparingly or to taste as it really is hot. milder peppers can be also be used if you like.

to grind the peppers the traditional way, a meat grinder with the finest blade is used. since not everyone has one, a food processor is more convenient. it does take some grinding as the peppers need to broken down to a paste. you should not have chunks of skins in your final mixture. i use a blender but it is a horse powered commercial kitchen one which can blend rocks, LOL. using a regular kitchen blender probably won't work too well though you can try it.

the paste will last a long time in the fridge but must be covered with a layer of olive oil at all times to prevent contamination; i have not been diligent in the past and it has gone bad on me, or should i say "green"?

upon refrigeration, the oil will most likely congeal but after sitting out for a few minutes it will melt right away. top it up each time you take from the paste and it will last months.

north african hot red pepper paste

makes approx. 1/3 to 1/2 cup


15 to 20 finger sized dried red chilis [check here to see varieties]
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
4 -6 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 heaping tbsp smoked or regular paprika

1 tsp dried rose petals, opt.
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander, opt.


soak the red chilis for at least 1/2 hour, covered, in boiled water.

meanwhile remove covering from garlic and cut each clove in half. at this point, you can mash it with some of the salt or chop it and add it to the mixture later (see below). mashing it is the preferred method but it can be done both ways.

grind the coriander, caraway seeds and cumin until you get a powder and set aside.

drain the chilis and oil your hands well. this will help protect your skin from absorbing the oils from the chili peppers. you may want to use kitchen gloves.

take each chili over the sink or a bowl and run two fingers over it from the bottom to the top to drain all water from it and to remove seeds. don't worry about a few seeds remaining. set all the chilis aside and wash your hands several times.

place the chilis in a food processor or grinder with 2 tbsp water and 2 tbsp of the olive oil. i usually do it in a meat grinder but since most people do not own one, i'm doing it the more "modern" way. you will have to really grind the chilis as they take a while to get a paste.

once the chilis are well broken up, add the garlic paste or chopped garlic and salt. grind away for several minutes. use a spatula to redistribute everything. add a bit more oil if you need to but don't overdo it.

add the spices and the rest of the oil and grind again. try to get as finely ground a paste as you can.

remove all to a VERY CLEAN glass jar and add 1/2 inch of olive oil to cover. this keeps mould from growing. when you use the paste, always make sure to add a bit more oil to keep it covered.

keep in the fridge. it is good for several months.


Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

This looks yum... my typical chili paste is sambal oelek, but of course it doesn't have the particular North African spices in your recipe.

What kind of dried red chilis would you get? E.g., from an Asian grocery store?

The TriniGourmet said...

I make harissa quite a bit :) so yum!

burekaboy — said...

hi emily - it is pretty much very similar to the asian one but the spicing is different and harissa doesn't have all the whole seeds as does the sambal oelek.

you can use any variety of dried red chilis, really. experiment a bit. these ones here are the indian kind; i had a huge bag of them and wanted to use some of them up and replenish my "stock".

to get the "real" flavour of harissa you should add smoked paprika or a dried chili chipotle (smoked jalapeno) when you soak the other chilis. it makes a big difference flavour wise.

i'm adding in a link in the post so check it out to see all the different kinds you can choose from.

make sure to wash your hands after several times, too!

LOL sarina - i hope you're not sticking in scotch bonnets!! do they dry scotch bonnets or is it only always fresh, btw? don't remember ever seeing a dried one.

could be interesting though; you could make a trinidadian harissa version (...hmmmm do i see an experiment on your part in the future??)

The TriniGourmet said...

lol :) no i used dried red chiles :D i should post pics some time soon that i took from a while back :D

i've never seen dried scotch bonnets no :P I leave the scotch bonnets to Trini pepper sauce which I should also make soon .. hmmm :)

burekaboy — said...

TG - post 'em :DD

i guess they'd prolly shrivel up to a nothing, anyway. weird though since there are every other kind of dried pepper but not scotch bonnets.

Princess Jibi said...

this is a no, no for me...
I remember this one time my cuz was cookin chowmein and he mistook hotpeppers for sweet peppers and chipped them up with his bare hands.. boy did the burn him for days..
We didnt grow up eating alot of peppers, guess thats y we dont like them much...

Beenzzz said...

I recently ran across a recipe for harissa, now I know what it is! It looks so good!

burekaboy — said...

PJ - oh oh!! that must have been really awful. i forgot to wash my hands one time and rubbed my eyes. boy, did that hurt. now i am always super careful when it comes to peppers/chilies. i would have thought you used them but i guess bec of your mom you don't.

beenzzz - LOL, it's HOOTTTT stuff ;D

Anonymous said...

I use this paste in a lot of my red sauce recipes. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

burekaboy — said...

hi jamila - i use it a lot, also. the spices i put are more north african (tunisian/algerian), i.e. caraway seeds. what goes into yours or do you just buy it?

Anonymous said...

I really have to figure out a way to know when someone answers one of my comments! I make mine sometimes and buy others. I have been planning making some soon and posting it. :-) I like one brand from a local store and it's from Turkey. It really is a good one but they don't always have it. The recipe I use is same as yours except I don't usually add paprika.

burekaboy — said...

jamila - i usually get the one that comes in a small can which comes from tunisia; haven't tried (or seen) the turkish one. i think they use different kinds of peppers & spices in their harissa. well, as long as it sets your mouth on fire, right?!

as for the comments, try clicking on the post and going to the bottom of it (after the comments) and click on subscribe to: post comments (rss). i think that should show you the new comments to a particular blog. i also have added a notifier to my blog for comments but it only works when people have their emails activated in their blogs. not many people do, unfortunately so it's not as useful as i hoped it would be.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to figure out how this whole widget thing works now. :-) Thank you!

burekaboy — said...

you're welcome -- widget thing? email me if u need help (can't guarantee i can help but i'll try).

Dan said...

thanks for the recipe, this was pretty easy to make. i used it in the matboucha recipe and will surely find lots of other uses for it. the hardest part was grinding the chiles fine enough using a small rechargable battery-powered food processor! took a few minutes :) i've heard that some people make harissa using crushed red chile flakes. would probably be hotter since those include the seeds though.

burekaboy — said...

hey dan - i always have this in the fridge; it keeps forever if you keep it covered in oil. very important as it will grow mouldy if you don't.

poor you! must have been a royal pain grinding the chili in that processor. i either do it in my old fashioned meat grinder (the way it's traditionally done) or in my blender. that however is a restaurant grade one. i wouldn't do the crushed red chili thing. the seeds -- yuck.

i'm sure you'll find myriad uses for harissa. couscous, tuna salads, pasta salads, as a condiment for things like poached eggs, etc. for kefta. the list goes on...