I think it’s high time I put this harissa recipe out there since it’s all I’ve been on about since last week. We ate it in and on everything from paneer köfte wraps, to roast chicken, and.. the pièce de résistance: an Ottolenghi inspired flame-roasted aubergine and whipped paneer dish which might possibly be the best tasting plate of food I’ve made in a long while. (Recipe coming soon!) But for that, you need harissa.
This North-African spice paste varies between regions and households but typically uses red peppers, chilli peppers, garlic, coriander, cumin, olive oil and caraway seeds. Now, I tried to get my hands on caraway in my local supermarket and even tried showing them a picture of what it looks like. But each time the lady came back with a packet of cumin seeds and thrust them in my hands insisting they were caraway. I gave up. I usually have a lot more in me to not relent, and especially so for tracking down ingredients, but that was the end of that caraway mission. All this is a roundabout way of saying if you happen to have caraway seeds, definitely use it here. I haven’t made a batch using them, but have tasted a really good store-bought paste that had it. You pick up on an anise/licorice note that works really well with the rest of the flavours in here.
You know I’m all for shortcuts, but the flavour of the paste would really benefit from using whole spices. If you don’t have them or are in a pinch, by all means substitute with ready-ground (quantities mentioned below.) With regard to chillies, I used our regular Guntur long reds. Use any kind available to you but make sure to adjust spice levels accordingly. If you find that after blending you want to up the heat, add chilli powder to taste. Also a quick note on tomato paste/powder: I’m referring to those concentrated tomato pastes that usually come in tins/tubes. I found a powder substitute for it which does the same job. Either works here. A dollop in here goes a long way to add that extra umami depth.
Make a bigger batch than you foresee using in the immediate future. Having flavourful pastes in the fridge are a real life-saver to rustle up quick meals: slather it over chicken/fish/potatoes/vegetables and roast in the oven, add a dollop to salad dressings and stews, use as a sandwich spread, the options are endless. You have a jar of this stuff in the fridge and you’ll be thinking up more ways to jam it into everything. I can tell you this as someone that’s eaten it in 3 different forms, in 3 different ways, over the course of 2 days.
- 2 red peppers
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 8 dried red chillies (see notes)
- 3 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste/powder (optional but recommended)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (plus more to top)
- Salt, to taste
- Soak dried red chillies in hot water for 10 mins. Slit them open lengthways and remove the seeds.
- Add coriander seeds and cumin seeds to a small pan. Roast them over a medium heat until they start to lightly brown. (If using ready-ground powders, skip this step and use 3 teaspoons of coriander powder + 1 ½ teaspoons of cumin powder.)
- Flame-roast the red peppers until charred and blistered on all sides. Make sure to get the tops and bottoms too. The more blackened they are the better the smokiness of the paste, so take your time to keep rotating and charring. Use tongs for this.
- (Note: if you don’t own a gas hob, place the peppers in a preheated 200 C oven and roast for 15-20 mins.)
- Place the blistered peppers in a bowl and cover and steam for 5 mins. This will make removing their skins a lot easier.
- Gently flake away the skins and discard the seeds and inner membrane. Add the peppers to a blender/food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend to a paste. Keep the consistency as smooth or as chunky as you'd like. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Decant into a bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. It will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days. If you want to store the paste for longer, top with a thin layer of olive oil and keep refrigerated for up to 10 days. Alternatively, it can be frozen for up to 3 months.