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.