The harissa recipe below was adapted by HOMEGROWN’s flock tender, Jennifer, whose heat tolerance has increased in direct proportion to the size of her hot-pepper crop.
If you haven’t tried it before, harissa is sort of like North African hot sauce, but with a thicker, pastier consistency: Think more sriracha than Cholula. A staple condiment in Tunisian cuisine, it’s also a great way to use up some of those hot peppers growing in your garden, since you can make it with fresh or dried chiles. You can put it in salads, on sandwiches, on eggs, as a condiment for these North African-style meatballs. Really, however you use hot sauce, you can use harissa.
It’s also one of those things you can’t find in every grocery store—a good enough reason, I’d argue, to know how to make your own! For the 101 below, I looked to The Kitchn’s recipe as my guide but added my own 2 cents. Let’s get started!
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Makes about 12 ounces or 1 ½ cups.
» 4 oz dried chiles (I used chipotle—spicy!—because that’s what I had on hand, but guajillo or ancho would add rich smokiness without heat. Feel free to experiment. You can also use fresh chiles; just double the amount. Bonus: Learn how to dry your own chiles!)
» 1 tsp caraway seeds
» 1 tsp cumin seeds
» 4 garlic cloves, peeled
» 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
» 1 tsp ground coriander
» 1 tsp paprika
» 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for storing
» 1 Tbsp lemon juice
» Fresh mint leaves, to taste (I used the leaves of 3 sprigs)
WHAT TO DO
1. If you’re using dried chiles, first you’ll want to rehydrate them. Put them in a nonreactive bowl (e.g. stainless steel), cover them with boiling water, and let them plump for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, toasts the caraway and cumin seeds in a skillet with no oil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When the seeds are fragrant, take them off the heat. For me, this took about 10 minutes.
3. Grind the toasted seeds using a spice grinder, a coffee grinder, or a mortar and pestle.
4. Now, back to the chiles: Drain the excess water, reserving it in a bowl.
5. Remove the seeds and any stems from the soaked chiles. Instead of patiently scrape, scrape, scraping with a paring knife, I slit the chiles open and ran them under cold water, flushing the seeds out. One note: DO NOT TOUCH YOUR EYES. In fact, don’t even think about touching anything that could touch your eyes until you have washed your hands thoroughly—and repeat. One more time. OK, you can continue. But still, don’t touch your eyes.
6. Add the chiles, toasted and dried spices, salt, garlic, lemon juice, and mint leaves to your food processor. Pulse until you’ve got the start of a pastelike consistency then slowly add the olive oil, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed. I wanted my harissa thick, but if you’d like yours a little saucier, you can add in some of the reserved chile water and continue blending. Now give it a taste. The flavor will continue to evolve over the next few days as the ingredients coalesce, but you can get a good read and adjust the seasonings now.
7. Transfer your harissa to an airtight container (first photo below) and cover the paste with a thin layer of olive oil before putting on the lid (second photo below). Your harissa is ready to use now, although it will keep in the fridge for a month or so. Just add a dash of olive oil on top after each use to help preserve the remaining paste.
As for my own harissa, as soon as it was ready, I dipped a spoon in. WOWZERS! My all-chipotle recipe yielded a hurt-so-good spiciness that made my eyes pop and my throat tingle. Not for the faint of heart—although we’re not talking ghost chile burn here, either. When I added a restrained smear to my hummus and cucumber sandwich, the fire was much reduced, instead adding a pleasant bit of depth and zing.
A couple of days later, I dolloped a teaspoon into a homemade variation on Jerusalem salad, with highly enjoyable results. Not too spicy, not too bland. Just right.
How do you use harissa? Share your suggestions and recipes below!
Got a question for Jennifer? Or have another harissa hint to pass along? Post a comment below and keep the conversation rolling! If you’ve got more peppers handy, you might try air drying chiles at home or making fermented chile paste. You might also be interested in 101s on dehydrating and making sundried tomatoes—and don’t miss this conversation among HOMEGROWN members offering up lots more ways to use hot peppers. You can always find more things to cook, preserve, make, craft, plant, grow, and blend in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.