Harissa

choose your favourite flavour or make your own, and then use liberally...

Stunning Harissa illustration is by my talented friend Katya @honestlygreen (now available for commissions!) 

It’s been two long months since I last wrote to you and I am not even ashamed, because we’re all going through ‘IT’, right? Everyone’s ‘it’ is very different but I hope that wherever you are, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and are making plans for post lockdown and the world re-opening. 

This week I’ll be talking about one of my favourite condiments - harissa. I love it so much I have 3 different jars on the go in the fridge. Our fridge is basically condiments surrounded by some veg and cheese, and poultry. It’s a bit of an issue because it feels like playing Jenga, constantly. 

There won’t be a recipe of the week in this issue because the internet is filled with hundreds of delicious Harissa recipes. 

ABOUT HARISSA 

What is Harissa? Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli pepper paste, the main ingredients of which are roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, spices and herbs such as garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin and olive oil to carry the oil-soluble flavours.

What does it taste like? If you like hot sauces and spicy food, then you will like harissa. The main flavour comes from the chillies, followed by the spiciness of garlic and acidity from the lemon. Depending on the variety of the harissa it might have smoky notes or be more mellow paired with rose petals and rose water. 

Harissa gets its name from the Arabic verb ‘harasa’ which means ‘to pound’. It’s believed that Harissa originated in Tunisia, where it was made fresh to order at the markets. It’s also widely used in Syria, Algeria and Morocco to flavour stews, make dips and marinate meat, fish and vegetables. 

The simplest version of harissa contains chillies, salt and olive oil. Each country has its variation on spices. Garlic, cumin, rose, coriander, caraway and dried mint are just some of the ingredients that are added to the pepper mix. 

‘’Maybe this will help draw the picture of what is considered a really good meal: when a meal is spicy enough to make your sinus runny, the food is complimented for cleaning out the airways’’ Huda Biuk, Libyan Post 

When talking about Harissa it’s worth noting that each culture has its own variety of hot sauce. In recent years, the food world has become everyone’s oyster and we can try ingredients from all over the place. Thai-born Sriracha has become a household name and a regular in our sandwiches, eggs and sauces. I often joke that I eat sriracha to feel alive. Growing up, I’d eat Adjika, a hot pepper paste from Georgia. You can pick up a jar of Indonesian Sambal Oelek from a local Asian market, or even a hight street supermarket if you’re lucky. Spanish Tabasco is the least exciting addition on our tables these days. Harissa is also becoming a household name with everyone becoming more familiar with its’ uses. 

All of these sauces and condiments have one thing in common: peppers. Peppers were eaten in Mexico thousands of years ago, cultivated by the Mayans and the Aztecs. Once Christopher Columbus landed, the interest in peppers spiked and pepper varieties started being moved to the Western world. They were first cultivated in Spain and Portugal, and then they slowly made their way across to North Africa and other subcontinents. 

Many chefs swear by Harissa and use it daily. Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sabrina Ghayour we’re growing our love for Harissa too. And to be honest, just like Nigella I’d like a year’s worth of Rose Harissa supply for Christmas. 

QUICK SUGGESTIONS FOR USE:

Harissa is perfect for flavouring stews and sauces, makes an excellent dip (or can elevate a dip) and is used as a marinade for vegetables and meat. But you guys already know this!

Savoury

  • Spiced Chicken, Harissa, Pomegranates

  • You had at me at the Aubergine 

  • More Aubergine-driven inspiration 

  • Harissa Vegetable and Chickpea Stew 

  • Something for fish lovers - Slow-Roasted Salmon with Harissa

  • Marinate any fish you love in some harissa and then pan fry or oven bake for flavoursome, juicy results. 

  • When in doubt or lacking inspiration, swirl some harissa through your favourite pasta shape, add some cheese and greens and call it a day. Honestly. 

  • Or use this recipe as a starting guide 

  • Similarly, take couscous, bulgur or rice add some beans and adorn with Harissa, lemon zest and juice and some pomegranate seeds, and maybe if you feel a bit “splurgy”, some pistachios. 

  • How do you like your eggs in the morning? I like to spike mine with Harissa and/or Sriracha, whether it’s a sunny side up or Eggs in Purgatory, a bit of Harissa won’t hurt. 

  • I HAD to include a recipe from Ottolenghi - Harissa-marinated Beef Sirloin with Preserved Lemon Sauce 

  • Okay, just one more tasty pasta from Ottolenghi, one of my absolute favourites. The craving for this is really strong and my brain is currently trying to work out if I have all the necessary ingredients

 Dips and bits

  • One of the easiest ways to elevate your mayo is to add some harissa and a bit of lime juice (or anything else acidic). I learnt this from Sabrina Ghayour (always share your sources). It goes beautifully with fish and poultry, in sandwiches and to cover the outside of your toasties. 

  • Apply the same concept to yoghurt and creme fraiche and you have a lovely spiked dip for your favourite meals. 

  • Swirl some through oil and you have a beautiful dressing for your salads. 

  • Harissa butter, need I say more? 

Even more recipes to get creative with Harissa:  

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN

There are many great products on the market but there’s something very rewarding when it comes to making your own. You can adjust the level of heat acidity and sweetness to your taste and it makes for an excellent gift. 

These are some of my favourite recipes:

WHERE TO BUY

My favourite Harissa if from Belazu, they currently have 3 types of Harissa available along with a harissa-flavoured pesto. Their Harissa releases a slow heat, alongside gentle ingredients like roses and apricots. Most supermarkets now stock a selection of Belazu ingredients, or you can order direct from their website, while you’re at it grab a bag of their Pappardelle. 

Another go-to for me is this Tunisian brand Le Phare Du Cap Bon, which comes in tins or tubes. Be careful though, if the recipe you’re using calls for 2 tbsp of rose harissa, use at least half that measure or it might be a bit too hot. Once you open a tin of this, transfer the rest of the paste into a glass or plastic container, cover it with a layer of oil and it will store in the fridge for a very long time. 

Something to watch: I’ve been comfort rewatching Bourdain’s The Layover. Paris, Dublin and London are my favourite episodes, my needs are very basic when I seek comfort. 

Cookbooks to explore: as always, I swear by the simplicity and variety of Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbooks; pick up Ottolenghi’s Flavour to learn about the treatment of vegetables and liberal use of Harissa and Nigella’s latest ‘Cook, Eat, Repeat’ is basically an ode to Apricot Harissa (and includes a recipe for making your own). 

Something to listen to: I’ve been working my way through the Table Manners podcast, and I am a little bit in love with Lydia West (can we, please, eat Buffalo wings together?) 

Something to read: What She’s Having - a collection of short stories, poems and recipes from talented women. 

Discovery of the week: not food-related, One Scream app (thank you Ashleigh!), it’s 2021 and we’re still teaching women how to be safe…

See you next *week* for another newsletter and maybe, just maybe another little project I am working on (self-inflicted project to keep sane). 

Anya xx 

Coming up next week: frequently requested cardamom (uncharted waters for me, I’ll be honest). 

 If you enjoyed this issue of Appetite, you can buy me a Ko-Fi to help fuel the next bowl of pappardelle with harissa.