Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Harissa redux

Tunisian pepper paste.  I love this stuff, especially on eggs.  Actually I made a post on this last year when I had my first go at making it.  This time I want to go into a little more detail on how I make harissa, since the last post was a little sketchy.  If you look up recipes online you'll find many different ways to make it.  I'm sure that, like hummus, every town in the region has its own variation on harissa. 

From the preparations that I've seen, ancho chilis are usually the base, hot peppers provide heat, and cumin and caraway, and maybe cilantro add spice.  There may be 2 camps of harissa makers - those who put tomato in it and those who don't.  I fall in the latter group, believing that this is a condiment where the pepper rules, and adding tomato makes it something else, like a salsa of sorts, but not a real harissa. 

Monday I picked these peppers, all of which went into making harissa.  Starting at the top left, there are 2 Bastan anchos, a Mosquitero ancho, and the mystery sweet pepper.  The yellow peppers are Mama Mia Giallo.  At the bottom left are 3 paprika peppers, and the small peppers are ripe Fish peppers - the heat.  I would have rather seen all the large peppers be anchos, but this is what the plants gave me, and I'll take it.

The preparation can be separated into 3 tasks.  The first part is roasting or grilling the large, mild peppers.  I say mild because anchos have some heat, while the sweet peppers have none.  If fresh anchos are not available and you want the flavor of the ancho in the paste, buy dried anchos at the supermarket and rehydrate in water.  I highly recommend using at least some anchos because they have a complex flavor profile that a sweet pepper can't duplicate - the taste of raisins, black currant, a sweet tang, a bit of heat - sublime really.

The second part is toasting the spices.  I used 2 tsp coriander, 4 tsp caraway, and 3 TB cumin.  Cumin especially is improved by toasting.  Raw cumin has an unpleasant raw 'bite' to it that toasting removes, replacing the rawness with a mellow, more rounded flavor.  And it smokes in the grinder!  I toasted the spices in a dry ceramic pan at medium heat.

How do you tell when the spices are toasted but not burnt?  I don't know, except I just know when it's time.  The seeds do look a bit browner in the after picture, and they were becoming fragrant.  After toasting, the seeds were ground, an operation that will clear the sinuses.

The third part is preparing the hot peppers.  I diced a medium onion and, after removing the seeds, cut all the Fish peppers at a fine dice.  The Fish peppers are related to serrano peppers and are about the same heat level, maybe a bit hotter, and they made the final product plenty hot for my taste anyway.  The peppers and onions were sauteed in some olive oil at medium-low heat until the onions wilted, then 5 chopped garlic cloves were added and the heat continued a few more minutes.

Then everything - the roasted peppers, the spices, and the onion/hot pepper mix - was put in the blender and blended together.  That's it.  The most labor intensive part is cutting up the hot peppers at a fine dice.  I intended to add a habanero to the mix but it had been in the refrigerator over a week and had gone bad.  Good thing it went bad because the paste is more than hot enough for my tastes.  It's a wonderful condiment and can spice up a lot of dishes.


Jane Strong said...

Mouth watering two ways, spicy hot and hungry. I just picked 15 assorted chili peppers today and have most of the other ingredients including dried ancho so I might try this. I like your recipe because it does not have an excessive number of ingredients.

Another tasty simple way to use up green chilis is Denver (Airport) Green Chili Stew: Simmer together pork pieces any kind, onions, potatoes, cumin, chicken broth granules and all the sliced deseeded green chili peppers you want. I add strips of flour tortillas for noodles at the end. That was my dinner tonight. Airport stew because that is where I first had it. The airport is a tornado shelter. Glad to be and not in the plane!

Margaret said...

Sounds wonderful and I've bookmarked the recipe. I haven't grown ancho chilies yet - not exactly sure why but they are on my list for next year!

Kathy said...

Mike, how do you store your harissa paste please? It looks just the job for using some of our large crop of serranos

gardenvariety-hoosier said...

Kathy - I put the harissa in small plastic tubs and freeze it. Everything is cooked and it freezes well, although I don't think I've frozen any longer than a few months.

Dave @ HappyAcres said...

Thanks for sharing this, I'm going to give it a try when I have some anchos ready. I don't think I've ever toasted caraway seeds before. I have with coriander and cumin so I can imagine it will make a difference in flavor. I have some serranos and Fresno planted to give me the heat.

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