I absolutely love spicy foods. I get it from my Dad, growing up he was always adding hot spices and chilis to dishes. He would make so many different cultural meals from Thai to Indian to Mexican and everything in between, so my taste buds have definitely been able to develop and grow to love all things with a hit of heat. They will never grow to what he could handle but I am pretty proud of the heat I can take. So thank you Daddy!
I was super excited when I started dating Paul because he is half East Indian and besides loving that kind of food, I was thinking "oh yes, we will match perfectly in the heated food department", that was until I found out that he can't handle much heat at all! It was a bit shocking and even somewhat disappointing (haha apparently I need to add must love heat to my dating checklist), but we have been together for 9 years now and he wee taste buds have grown into some heat loving now as well.
I hate to admit this but it took me sometime to get onto the harissa bandwagon. I had dined out on dishes with harissa in them and absolutely loved them but I never got around to making it myself at home. To be honest I wasn't even really sure what it was. I kinda thought it was a spice not a paste, oops. But after some research and testing I figured it all out and now I am hooked.
If you yourself are are wondering what exactly harissa is, to be clear it is a paste not a spice. More specifically a spicy, aromatic, delicious chile paste that is used most commonly in North African and Middle Eastern cooking.
Harissa recipes can vary between countries and regions, just like most curries do from regions in Indian (each house truly has their own version of butter chicken and each is just as delicious in its own way) but a standard version includes a blend of hot chile peppers, garlic, olive oil, lemon and spices, like cumin, coriander, caraway and mint.
About a month ago I decided it was long overdue to look into this harissa thing myself and I came up with a version that is utterly delicious. Harissa is SO easy to make and you can really tune the heat to your liking, adding less heated peppers or more, whatever you can handle. There are so many versions of harissa out there that you can't really go wrong with the amounts of each ingredient (within reason), play around with it and make it your own. I swapped cilantro for mint in this version and love the flavour it gives but if you are more of a mint fan by all means use that instead.
I hate buying anything store bought and only have the odd one at home, like sambal oelek or soy sauce, ones that you can turn into something else. I always find homemade things to be so much better plus you know exactly what is going into them and what isn't going into them (ahem, too much sugar anyone?). And I love being in the kitchen and putting the extra time and love into a dish really does make it shine and when it is as easy as this harissa it is almost harder to get into the car, drive to the store, walk the isles, check out at the register and drive all the way home. Seriously.
Be warned harissa is quite spicy, a little goes a long way but the spice factor can somewhat be determined by you. Do remember though if you are adding it to something like coconut milk to make a baked chicken (recipe for that coming next week) that will help dilute the spiciness so you also want to make sure you don't make it too bland either. I really think my version is the perfect in between, a little hot on its own but it can also hold up to being added to soups, creams or coconut milk based recipes.
Harissa can be used in a variety of dishes like, baked eggs (recipe coming Thursday, watch this space), slow cooked chicken, soups, stews, as a marinate for meat or veggies even a dollop onto of your eggs in the morning to kick up the heat. Also blended into hummus added to a beautiful dish of olive oil for a delicious yet simple bread dip.
Later this week I am going to share a really easy baked egg dish that you can use this harissa in and next week I am sharing a coconut milk, chickpea, chicken dish that is to die for using harissa and coconut milk as the base!
roasted red pepper + chipotle harissa
2 red peppers
2 dried ancho chilis
2 dried chile de arbol
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce + 1 tbsp of the sauce
4 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander or 2 tsp of coriander seeds toasted
1 tsp caraway seeds toasted
1/2 tsp of cumin or 1 tsp of cumin seeds toasted
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp of olive oil
juice of one lemon
handful of cilantro
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking tray with tin foil and place the red peppers on whole. Turning every 20 minutes for about 50-60 minutes, until they are tender and slightly blackened.
In a small bowl filled with boiling water add the dried ancho chilis and chile de arbols and allow to soak while the red peppers are roasting.
To toast the spice seeds, add them to a small sauce pan on medium heat and stir continuously until they start to become aromatic and lightly browned. Set aside.
Once the peppers are roasted and the chilis have softened add all of the above ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
This will keep in the fridge for at least a week, maybe longer it just has never lasted longer in my house!
If you want the harissa to be a little less spicy you can take out one of the chile de arbols.
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of harissa.