I have a confession to make. Katherine and I are spice addicts and have never met pepper too hot for us (yes, that includes the infamous ghost pepper). Katherine’s father used to eat scotch bonnet peppers whole, like devilish amuse bouche, so it’s clearly in the blood. But neither of us had tried Harissa Sauce before, much less knew anything about it.
When researching condiments for our Around the World in 10 Condiments series, we came across Harissa. Katherine looked me straight in the eye and said ‘we’re making this tonight. Sorry, we’re making this now.”
Along with the fresh ingredients needed for the recipe, I bought a few ready-made options from one of our local Middle Eastern markets. We’re fortunate to live in Atlanta, so exotic ingredients and foods aren’t difficult to find.
I’m also a big fan of chatting with merchants, chefs and others in the food world, especially if we’re talking about a dish from their homelands. I got the scoop from the merchant as he reviewed each of the bottled options and then told me about two ingredients his mother would never do without. Yeah, baby. Authentic Harissa on the way.
After a few test runs, the recipe held up nicely to the store bought brands and surpassed them in terms of freshness, of course. The freshly ground spices and freshly prepared red pepper do make a difference. The result is a creamy and smooth sauce, with the sort of heat that sneaks up slowly. You get the spices first, followed by a mild pepper sweetness, then heat that’s not searing, but hot enough for spice addicts.
Although not mentioned in the ingredients, you can elevate the sauce with chopped mint folded in only after it has cooled. The mint will add a fresh, effervescent accent to the sauce while cooling your palate.
This Harissa recipe will keep if refrigerated for about three weeks in an airtight sealed container. I recommend you try this with a herb crusted rack of lamb, fluffy couscous with dates and a side salad of diced feta cheese, tomatoes, and fresh mint. You can also try it on shrimp. Our Moroccan Salad with Harissa Shrimp will show you how.
While my recipe uses grapeseed oil, traditionally it calls for olive oil. I have my reasons for using grapeseed oil which I will love to share with you one day. Stay tuned.
Suggestions and Alternatives
- If you do not have roasted garlic handy, you can use raw garlic but only add one garlic clove to the recipe.
- Grapeseed oil can be hard to find in some markets so as an alternative you can use canola oil or even vegetable oil.
- If you feel this recipe is too spicy for you remove some seeds from your chilies to minimize heat.
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Harissa - African Red Pepper Sauce
Harissa - African Red Pepper Sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed ground
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed ground
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed ground
- 1 whole red bell pepper roasted
- 3 cloves garlic roasted
- 1/2 cup red onion chopped
- 3 whole red chilies chopped
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice fresh squeezed
- 1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste quality
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoon grapeseed oil quality
Instructions for Roasted Red Bell Peppers
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Use one tbs. Grape seed oil and lightly coat the whole Red Bell Pepper. Please do not use olive oil for this stage.
- Then place Red Pepper on a sheet tray and roast for about 6 minutes, rotating it once after 3 minutes. (you can also put your red pepper directly over flames, but be sure to watch it carefully and turn it every minute or so).
- Remove your charred red pepper from the oven or direct flames and immediately place it in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap or place in a brown paper bag.
- Let sit for 10 minutes, then remove skin and seeds. Please do not run your pepper under water. It just removes all the flavor.
Instructions for Harissa - African Red Pepper Sauce
- In a dry pan add all seeds. Cumin, coriander, and caraway. Toast on medium heat until aromatic. About three minutes max.
- Using a mortar and pestle grind your seeds. (does not need to be a fine grind).
- If you do not have roasted red bell peppers from a jar, please follow the Roasted Red Pepper instructions.
- In a blender add your roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, diced red onion, red chilies and all your toasted and ground seeds.
- Blend on medium high for 1 minute, then add your lemon juice, tomato paste, and salt. Continue mixing.
- After one minute slowly add your grapeseed oil.
- Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.