Chili Paste

Harissa is so simple to make that you never need to be without a jar. Get spicy recipes at TwiceasTasty.com.

Many of my travel memories revolve around food, and what I ate during a month in Morocco lingers years later. My diet then was as it is today (mostly vegetarian with some fish thrown in), meaning I spent most of my time in country disappointing well-intentioned Moroccan women who wanted to celebrate my presence at their table with the rare treat of meat. Once they were convinced no one was being rude, we could all enjoy their everyday, mostly meatless meals. These simple dishes let the spices shine, and I soon learned to look for my favorite flavors at market stalls while I traveled from city to desert and back. One of my favorite snacks became a bag of olives heavily coated in a chili-and-spice blend known as harissa.

I discovered harissa in Morocco, but Tunisia often claims origination rights. Regardless, this spicy North African paste is served on everything from couscous to soup to toast, for the daring. I’ve tossed it with vegetables before roasting or, instead of Chermoula, with shrimp before skewering them for the grill. Harissa resembles sambal oelek, an Indonesian chili paste, but it can be harder to find in American stores. Fortunately, it’s so simple to make that you’ll stop seeking it out in specialty markets. You can make it any time of year, using fresh peppers in season and dried or even smoked ones the rest of the year—which is also fortunate, because you’ll never want to be without a jar.

Traditionally, harissa is preserved by an olive oil “seal” that is replaced each time you dip into the paste. I still store such sealed harissa in an airtight jar in the fridge to ensure it doesn’t spoil. It will keep that way for a couple of months, so I make it regularly in small batches.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 2 main ingredients plus a couple of spices.
1. Prep the chilies and garlic.
2. Puree all of the ingredients.
3. Enjoy.

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Homemade Harissa

  • Servings: 1/4 cup
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
18 dried red chilies (about 1 ounce)
6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
Olive oil, to taste or as needed

Remove the stems and seeds, if desired, from the chilies; soak the chilies in hot water for 30–60 minutes, until soft, and then drain. Using a food processor, chop the garlic and peppers until very fine; add the salt, spices, and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Stir in the olive oil by hand. Use immediately (see below) or scrape into a small glass jar, topping with enough additional olive oil to cover the surface of the puree. Cap with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Makes about 1/4 cup.

Tips & Tricks
  • This harissa variation is quite spicy. Turn up the heat further by leaving in the pepper seeds or using hotter chilies. For less heat, use milder chilies or grill or roast a red bell pepper and stir it into the mix. Fresh chilies can be substituted in season.
  • Freshly ground spices will add the best flavor, but they won’t grind evenly if you just put coriander and cumin seeds into the food processor with the other ingredients. Instead, briefly dry roast a larger batch of each and grind them using a coffee grinder, spice mill, or mortar and pestle. Save the extra ground spices for another recipe.
  • Harissa has so many uses you’ll want to always have a jar at hand. Toss it with carrots (see below) or other vegetables, or stir it into the soups or snacks I’ll share later this month. You can also toss 2 tablespoons with about 8 ounces of mixed olives, letting it sit at least 2 hours before eating.

Harissa is so simple to make that you never need to be without a jar. Get spicy recipes at TwiceasTasty.com.

Twice as Tasty

Harissa’s spicy flavor goes well with many dishes, but it shines with contrasting flavors, like vegetables roasted until their sugars caramelize. You can toss everything from carrot sticks to squash cubes with some of this chili paste before sticking them in an oven. I sometimes add harissa to my Glazed Carrots, but thinly “slicing” lengths of carrot with a vegetable peeler or mandoline and baking the harissa-coated shavings on a tray is another simple yet attractive presentation.

Although I’ve seen many recipes for carrots prepared in this manner that call them “chips” or “crisps,” don’t expect the crunch produced by deep frying or even the crisp exterior of potato wedges baked as oven fries. My attempts to wring this level of crispness from carrots charred them black before they crunched. But by peeling lengths down to the core of the carrot or slicing them ultrathin on the bias with a mandoline, they’ll curl and crisp up slightly under the oven’s heat. These are best eaten warm, either in pinches from a bowl or as a topping on another dish.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need a few carrots, your Homemade Harissa, and some kitchen staples.
1. Prep the carrots and garlic.
2. Toss with the other ingredients.
3. Roast in the oven.
4. Add any final seasoning or garnish and enjoy.

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Moroccan Shaved and Roasted Carrots

  • Servings: 1-1/4 cups
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
1-1/4 pound carrots
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Homemade Harissa, or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
1/3 cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely ground (optional)

Scrub the carrots clean under cool running water, and then run a vegetable peeler down their length or scrape them over a mandoline on a bias to create ultrathin strips or ovals; set aside. Thinly slice the garlic, adding it to a large bowl. Stir in the harissa, olive oil, maple syrup, cumin, and salt. Add the carrots; toss until well coated.

Spread the carrots in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet covered with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Roast at 425°F for 25–30 minutes, until caramelized and beginning to brown; check them more frequently toward the end of the roasting time, and loosen them from the foil with a spatula if they start to stick. Remove the pan from the oven; season the strips with freshly ground pepper and sprinkle with parsley and pistachios, if desired. Serve immediately. Makes about 1-1/4 cups.

Tips & Tricks
  • If you’ve toned down your harissa with a roasted red bell pepper, you may be able to use a tablespoon or more per batch of carrots. Unless you’re a fiery food fiend, I suggest starting on the light end until you find your perfect balance.
  • If you look closely at the photo for this recipe, you’ll notice pieces of dried parsley instead of fresh. When it’s -52°F with wind chill and blowing snow, the parsley you dried last summer works, but fresh is best.
  • Looking for still more uses for harissa? Mix it into Roasted-Garlic Hummus, Fresh Yogurt, or a salad dressing for raw carrots. Or serve it on a breakfast sandwich built on a Sourdough English Muffin.


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