Serious Eats: Recipes

Serious Heat: Homemade Harissa

[Photo: Andrea Lynn]

It was during a trip to Morocco last year where I was first exposed to harissa, a thick, hot paste of red chiles. It's a staple in neighboring Algeria and Tunisia, and just recently making inroads in Morocco. "When I first walked on Moroccan soil, harissa didn't even exist," Moroccan food expert, Paula Wolfert, told me. "At that time, it wasn't in the tradition of Moroccans to use harissa. Moroccan food is more sweet and savory, not sweet and spicy. It was foreigners, like us, who would find the food a little bland, and use it."

Nowadays, Moroccans stir harissa into a broth to drizzle over couscous or dollop into soups and stews. What I enjoy about harissa is the added flavor that cumin, coriander and garlic bring to the spicy paste. Harissa can be found all over North Africa, but it depends on the family whether they buy the condiments or grind chiles, coriander, cumin and olive oil into the blend own their own.

Lately, I've been using harissa as a pasta sauce of sorts, to accompany meat or swirled into soups. My next culinary adventure is to try meatballs braised in harissa.

The flavor and heat level of harissa varies depending on how it's made, and it can be found at various grocery stores like Whole Foods. But with a couple roasted red peppers and dried chiles, you can make a batch at home (which I prefer because then I can tweak the flavor to what I like).

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