Not too long ago, I made the mistake of buying marked down harissa from the grocery store. The paste was incredibly bland and left little to the imagination. I have had harissa before, so I knew this was just a sad imitation, but I couldn't help but think to myself, "no wonder it was marked down." Even more sad was the price before being marked down, when harissa is a simple enough paste of mild and hot peppers, along with garlic and spices, and then topped with oil to help it last longer in the fridge.
So, today I am going to make the paste. As with all of my recipes, I researched multiple on the web before deciding what ingredients and amounts I will throw to together to make it my own. There are so many times that I have certain items I just need to figure out how to make them work- this is one of those times, as I won't have any of the traditional peppers.
Instead I am working with 14 sweet peppers and 6 habaneros. If you have ever worked with habaneros before, you can probably deduce immediately that this will make for one hot pepper paste. I want to dilute the heat slightly, so I also plan on using a carrot, a non-traditional ingredient, but it will add bulk and flavor while cutting the heat. In fact, most of this recipe is not traditional, but as I plan on finding ways to utilize any bounty that comes my way, I will sometimes take a different route to the intended destination.
I started off by roasting all of the peppers, along with 7 garlic cloves. Nothing magical about that number, I just happen to like garlic. Add a clove more or less to taste. Make sure to lightly drizzle olive oil before roasting in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, turning the peppers every so often. The garlic only takes 20 minutes, max, so keep an eye on it.
I meant to roast the carrot along with the peppers and garlic, but somehow forgot to do this until after the oven was off, so I just diced it finely and threw it in the microwave. While that was cooking, I heated whole coriander, cumin and caraway seeds in a small skillet, on a medium heat. I love using these spices- they're so peppy and pack a nutritious punch that includes trace minerals and B vitamins. It's best to keep spices whole and grind down before using in order to make the flavor, and in turn the nutrition, last longer.
Once the seeds were toasted, I put them into a spice grinder (using a coffee grinder for this, only it's never been used for coffee, only spices) and pulsed for a few seconds until the seeds were powder. I then threw all of the ingredients into a food processor and processed them right into paste. Add a bit more oil to if needed to make the consistency paste-like. The paste is placed into a clean jar, topped with more oil (what can I say, except oil is good for you!) and a lid and place into the fridge. As long as oil "seals" in the paste, this should keep for 3 weeks. I'm sure I'll use it long before then, though.
On what exactly do I use harissa, you ask? I'm trying to decide between baked chicken and tomatoes or roasted cauliflower, personally. As a spicy pepper condiment, it can go well with many things, including a topping on hamburger, chicken, fish, or lamb. This spicy, vitamin C packed paste can be tossed with any number of vegetables, like eggplant, green beans, or even this season's under-rated darling the sweet potato. I'll let you know what I end up making!
Harissa recipe - non-traditional, but still delicious
14 small mild peppers, or 4-5 large red bell peppers
7 cloves of garlic
1 large carrot
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp whole coriander
1 tsp whole caraway
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut small peppers in half, large in quarters. Peel garlic. Place peppers on a baking sheet, garlic in a dish, and drizzle both with olive oil. Roast garlic for 2o minutes, peppers for 30-40, checking every few minutes for any browning. Pull from oven and set aside as needed (some of the smaller, thinner walled peppers were done after 20 minutes, also.)
Since I ended up dicing and microwaving the carrot, I recommend doing that. It may not have ended up the right consistency in the oven (I roasted carrots the other day and it took much longer than anticipated to get them cooked right). The diced carrot should be placed in a bowl with a tiny splash of water to help it steam quickly and microwaved for three minutes. (Another side recommendation- get yourself some silicone dish covers, they are fantastic! They come in many sizes, and then you don't have to worry about contaminating your food with all the chemicals in plastic!)
Once everything is cooked, pull from the oven and let cool. While the vegetables are cooling, place the spices (not the salt) in a small skillet and warm on medium heat, shaking the skillet lightly from time to time to keep spices from burning. Once you begin to smell the spices, they are ready. If you don't have whole spices, you can use ground. Just use a little less than the recipe calls for, closer to 3/4 tsp each.
Toss all ingredients into a food processor and pulse to start breaking the ingredients down. If you feel the mixture is too thick and not breaking down enough, add a little bit of oil, about a Tbsp or two, to make it more wet and give the food processor something to work with. Once the mixture has become a paste, scrap into a clean jar, top with oil, put the lid on the jar and refrigerate. Use within three weeks (I guarantee you will).