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 tablespoon grape seed oil
- 1 whole red bell pepper, roasted
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed ground
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed ground
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed, ground
- 3 cloves garlic, roasted
- 1/2 cup red onion, roughly chopped
- 3 whole red chilis, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoon lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions for Roasting Vegetables
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Use 1 tbs. Grape seed oil and lightly coat red bell pepper, red onion, red chilis and garlic
- Place vegetables on a sheet tray and roast for about 6 minutes, rotating it once after 3 minutes.
- Remove vegetables from the oven 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 from red peppers.
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 3 minutes max.
- Using a mortar and pestle to grind seeds.
- In a blender add roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, diced red onion, red chilies and all toasted and ground seeds.
- Blend on medium high for 1 minute, then add your lemon juice, tomato paste, and salt.
- After one minute slowly add grape seed oil.
- Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.