Looks can be deceptive. Those who know me will have discovered that I exude (most of the time anyway) an air of outward-calm. It seems that very little ruffles my pretty little feathers. And for the most part that would be true. But on occasion, some well-disguised inner turmoil and fear lurks. For example, lately I've gotten to worrying that you may be bored with all the tomato stuff I've been sharing in recent weeks - after all four out of the last five posts about tomatoes is possibly a little tiresome for even my most ardent of followers. So even though I am longing to share my tomato basil jam and tomato tarts with you, today I will give you something a little different.
I had never really heard of harissa, until a few years back when I started to get interested in Moroccan food and it seemed to crop up as an ingredient in many of the dishes I discovered. As such, I took it for granted that it was something of a Moroccan household staple. So it was interesting to learn, that although this may be the case these days, harissa is actually Tunisian in origin. Essentially, it is a hot chilli paste, flavoured with other herbs and spices, and used as an ingredient in meat, fish and vegetable dishes. I suppose in many ways, as garam masala is to the Indians, so harissa is to the Tunisians and Moroccans, and every household will have their own recipe for it.
I've come across many recipes for it both on the internet and in books, one of my favourite being that found in Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark (one of my favourite cookbooks), and their recipe is my principle inspiration. I've played around with a lot of these recipes, tweaked them here and there, to find the combination of herbs and spices that I like, and this is the result.
You can also play around with whatever combination of peppers and chillies you might like to use for this. I've made it on occasion with bottled roasted peppers and frozen chillies in the winter when fresh ones aren't around; I've made it using only dried chillies (about a cupful soaked in warm water to soften). You can use whatever kind of chillies and peppers you like to get your desired amount of heat; also please yourself whether you leave seeds in or take them out.
This time around I used eight of these largish, slightly spicy, but not too hot chillies, from which I discarded all the seeds, plus four long, skinny, much hotter chillies with the seeds retained. My resulting harissa definitely has a slight kick, but not agressively so, and it provided just the right amount of heat in the fish tagine I added it to.
This makes quite a big quantity, considering that you would normally only use a tablespoon or two at a time in any given dish. It will keep in the fridge for about a week, but freezes well. I put it into little snaplock bags (a couple of heaped tablespoons in each bag) and then stash them in the freezer - perfect for taking out just exactly the right amount for an instant Moroccan dinner.
Inspired by recipe from Sam & Sam Clark
From Moro East
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
8x large, not too hot chillies, or red peppers
4x hot chillies
3 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
4x cloves garlic, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil
flaky sea salt
Roast chillies and peppers over a naked flame (the barbeque is ideal), or in the oven, until the skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from heat and put into a plastic bag and leave to cool completely.
Also roast the tomato until the skin is blackened and split. Set aside to cool.
Roast the caraway, cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and then grind to a powder either in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Remove chillies and peppers from the plastic bags and peel off the blackened skins - they will slip off easily. Remove and discard seeds from larger chillies or peppers. Leave seeds in smaller, hotter chillies depending on how much heat you want. Roughly chop and put into a food processor.
Remove the skin from the tomato, chop roughly and add to the food processor.
Add the roughly chopped garlic, ground spices, paprika, lemon juice and olive oil to the other ingredients in the food processor. Blitz up until you have a smooth paste. Add a generous pinch of flaky sea salt, blitz again, taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.