Roasted Red Pepper Harissa

Thursday, May 12 2011 Cooking!

My most notable memory of harissa was when it was served with my burger and fries, next to creme fraiche, as a clever substitute to catsup at Portland’s beloved Clyde Common. Its concentrated, rich flavor adds a bold punch to the most ordinary of foods: potatoes, burgers, eggs. It’s the sexy sidekick of condiments. After the briefest amount of internet research, I learned how simple harissa was to make—soak chiles and blend with spices, lemon, oil and salt—and it was instantly on the top of my food experiment list.

Harissa is a hot chili sauce originating from North Africa, consisting of any of several hot peppers (commonly birds eye chilis, but you could substitute for dried chiles available), and nearly always contains coriander, garlic, caraway and olive oil. Some recipes called for cumin seeds, mint, or regular red peppers, some did not. I love the smokey sweetness of roasted red peppers, so I decided to bulk up the recipe by using them. I’m not a big fan of caraway, so I skipped it this time. In the future I might use fresh cilantro, a bit of mint and a touch more garlic—but I love how my first attempt turned out.

I can already vouch for using this condiment’s sweet, tangy spiciness on burgers, with chickpea fries and on top of eggs in the morning.

Roasted Red Pepper Harissa

Makes about 1.5 cups

  • 2 red peppers
  • 4-6 dried birds eye chiles
  • 4-6 dried new mexico chiles
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp. sea salt
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Put chiles into a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain chiles and remove all stems and seeds—if you don’t mind your harissa very spicy, include a teaspoon or more of seeds.

Preheat broiler. Roast peppers by placing them on a baking sheet and putting them in the oven under broil. Check frequently and turn peppers so that each side is significantly charred. Set aside and let cool. Once cool to the touch, remove the skin, stem, seeds and membrane.

Heat coriander and cumin in an small skillet over medium heat. Toast spices until fragrant and just starting to brown, about 3-4 minutes.

Place chiles and roasted peppers in a food processor or blender with the spices, olive oil, salt, garlic, and lemon juice. Purée until the paste is very smooth. To store, place in glass jars with a thin layer of oil and it will keep for up to 3 weeks. I didn’t bother because I’m confident my harissa won’t last that long.

Harissa Aioli:

Absolutely perfect with potato wedges or chickpea fries. I anticipate this has become my sauce of choice for quite some time.

  • 2 parts ‘naise of choise (I particularly like grapeseed veganaise), or yogurt
  • 1 part harissa
  • pinch of sea salt
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