My love of harissa began in Sicily many years ago.
Harissa is a hot chilli condiment and the favoured national spice of Tunisia, but it is also popular in Algeria and Libya.
I first tasted harissa about 30 years ago in the home of one of my cousins in Augusta, Sicily. He was then a naval, mechanical engineer who had discovered harissa (stored in beautifully decorated little golden tins) through his many travels and work close to North Africa in the Mediterranean Sea . He gave me a tin to bring back to Australia and I have been making versions of harissa ever since .
Years later, in 2013 I visited Tunis where harissa was served with everything we ordered in restaurants and I first wrote a post about harissa on my blog in the same year.
Sometimes on the north-western and western coast of Sicily you may find restaurants that make fish or meat couscous and accompany it with harissa or a chilli condiment. In Calabria chilli paste is also popular but this has no spices, just heat and salt.
Each batch of harissa I make is slightly different because I never weigh or measure ingredients, but unless I have an abundance of fresh chilies I use dry chillies or chilli flakes.
I do have many fresh chillies at the moment.
There have been times that I have charred the fresh chilies, but this is far too fiddly. I like short cuts so I sauté them in a little extra virgin olive oil.
I love caraway seeds and this is always a key spice in any harissa condiment I make.
Quite a good deal of salt and extra virgin olive oil are a must for making harissa and not just for flavour but also as preservatives. I use oil to sauté the ingredients and then to drizzle into the food processor as the rest of the ingredients are mixing together. I also use the oil to cover the top of the paste in the jar to prevent mould forming.
Only sometimes do I add cumin and coriander seeds, but in small amounts to suit my mood and the particular food I wish to accompany the harissa with. Cumin and coriander are common in middle eastern cooking so there is no need to duplicate flavours if I have used those spices in the cooking.
This time I also added garlic, that I sautéed with the chillies, but I do not add garlic every time. Once again, if I use garlic in the cooked dish, why duplicate the flavour?
I added some smoked paprika to impart the smoky taste and some sweet paprika, a little tomato paste and a fresh chargrilled red pepper. These ingredients add flavour, soften the taste, add bulk and make the paste smoother.
The juice and grated peel from 1 lemon adds flavour and sharpens the taste.
The procedure is simple. I remove the stem part of each chilli, but I do not de seed them, however this depends on the degree of their hotness and how fiery you like the paste to be.
I had approx. 200g of chillies, 4 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp of caraway seeds, 1/2 tbsp of cumin seeds, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1tbsp salt, 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tbsp of each of the sweet and the smoked paprika, lemon peel and 1 red chargrilled pepper, peeled.
* Please alter amounts of all ingredients to suit your taste.
Sauté the chillies with the garlic cloves. Once they are soft add the seeds and the paprika. Continue stirring over heat to toast the spices. Add the charred pepper (de-seeded and torn into strips), tomato paste and about 1/4 cup of water and cook briefly for a couple of minutes. Add lemon juice when you have finished the cooking.
Blend everything adding more oil and the salt until you have a fairly smooth paste.
Bottle into sterilised jars and top with more oil. Store it in the fridge and after you have used some of the paste, always top the paste with more oil.