HARISSA (A hot chili condiment)

I was in Tunis recently and very much enjoyed one particular meal at a restaurant that was by locals and cooked traditional food. The restaurant was very hard to find and our map reading skills were not the best, but we were very happy with the range of food we ate there. Harissa seemed to be in most of the food we ate including some mixed in some oil, which was served as a dip as a starter. It had slices of cucumber and black olives in it.

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The other was a carrot dip also with Harissa.We dipped our bread into both of them.

I have been making and eating harissa for many years.

Harissa is a hot chilli condiment and ingredient and is the favoured national spice of Tunisia, but it is also popular in Algeria and Libya. It is very common to have harissa with couscous and I first tasted it in Sicily many years ago, which is very close to Tunis.

There are now many books about Middle Eastern cuisine (and North African) with recipes and variations for making it, but this version is very simple. I like to use whole caraway or cumin seeds rather than the powder and I do not usually weigh the chilli flakes, but the following ratio works well. In Tunisia they use a dry, very dark whole chilli, which produces Harissa with an intense colour. The chillies could also be smoked (hence their dark colour).

This photo is in my second book Small Fishy Bites and I took it in Tunis.

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150g dried chilli flakes
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
hot water to soften the chilli
1 tbsp whole caraway or cumin seeds
salt, 1 tablespoon
extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup for the mixture and a little extra to seal
Pour hot water on to the chilli flakes, (just enough to cover them) and soak for about 30 minutes. If using caraway seeds rather than powder, add these to soak as well. (The water will be absorbed and the flakes should swell).
Blend the ingredients in a small food processor.
Add the garlic, salt and some the extra virgin olive oil. You may need to add a little water – it should resemble a soft paste.
Pack into small glass jars and top with oil to seal. Replace the oil covering each time you use it.
To make the Harrisa flavoured oil simply mix 2-3 teaspoons of Harissa in about 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil.

Arabic Minaret Tunis

 

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