A number of years ago we discovered the joy of making our own spice mixtures. Sure, it’s easy to grab a jar of something from the grocery store, but nothing compares to a mixture that you’ve made yourself with fresh ingredients that fit your preferred flavour profile to a T. One of our favourites is Harissa Paste. You’re supposed to use it sparingly but any time we have a jar on the table, my brother-in-law will eat it by the spoonful.
According to Padma Lakshmi in her Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, Harissa is “a fiery-hot Tunisian spice paste that is also widely used in Moroccan and Algerian cooking”.
Traditionally, it is served with tagines and couscous, but it seems to go well with just about anything. It’s particularly amazing on eggs!
You can set the heat to your own level, but it’s not just about the heat - this spice paste is bursting with flavour. Heat alone doesn’t do it for us, but back up that heat with the right combination of herbs and spices and Boy-Howdy!! Claire and I once polished off half a jar of Olio Picante at Seven Numbers restaurant in Toronto. We just couldn’t stop. The server looked at us as though he pitied our future, but luckily we were unscathed.
The one we generally make is from River Cottage Handbook #2; Preserves, by Pam Corbin. Again, make it to your liking or your hankerings for the day. Here is the recipe that we follow with our amendments:
Harissa Paste (adapted from River Cottage Handbook #2; Preserves, by Pam Corbin)
Makes two 112 gram jars.
250 g tomatoes (we sometimes use the tinned fire-roasted tomatoes)
50 g hot chillies (sliding scale). We use 3 or 4 hot red chillies but sometimes we use a dried thai chilli.
2 fat garlic cloves
50 g shallots (onion works just fine)
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds (ground coriander works well too)
1/2 tsp salt
50 ml olive oil or hemp oil (we’ve only used the olive oil)
Possible variations: throw in some extra garlic, or cumin, or mint. You could even put some black pepper, cinnamon or paprika in there!
A lot of recipes, like this one, ask for you to blanch and peel your tomatoes… we feel it’s a waste of time and tasty tomato skin.
Remove the stalk and calyx from the chillies (or finely chop your dried chilli). This is where you can adjust your heat. Keep in some seeds and pith or take it all out - but please remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling hot chillies.
Put the tomatoes, chillies, and all other ingredients, except the oil, into a food processor or use a hand blender and blitz it until it’s well blended.
Transfer into a small saucepan and heat until boiling, then simmer for 10 minutes (we let it simmer for 15 - 20 minutes) until reduced to desired thickness. Let cool and pack into warm sterilized jars leaving one centimetre at the top. Pour oil over the paste to completely cover. Seal the jars.
Store in the fridge and use within four months.