Harissa is a Tunisian hot red chile sauce that evolved after the Spanish introduced chillies from the new world into North Africa and the Mediterranean in the mid 1500’s. Harissa’s popularity spread across North Africa, including Libya, Algeria, and Morocco and eventually across the Middle East with adaptations for regional tastes.
The basic ingredients for harissa are, first and foremost, chilies, both fresh and dried, as well as garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and coriander seeds, and salt. Variations may also include caraway seeds, mint, tomatoes, and even cinnamon. This is hot stuff and meant to be, so don’t be timid! Used with grilled meats and fish, stirred into soups and tagines, and especially favored as a condiment with couscous.
Hariisa is produced commercially, but I have yet to taste one that even approaches a freshly made harissa. There is, to be honest, some preparation involved, but the rewards are well worth the effort. You may want to make larger batches and freeze for later use.
Harissa makes 1 ¼ cups
- 3 long fresh hot red chilies
- 1 small red sweet pepper (optional)
- 1 vine ripe tomato
- 4-6 long dried hot red chilies
- 6 small hot red dried chilies
- 4 plump garlic cloves, skin on
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
- ¼ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted (optional)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt + more as needed
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for preserving.
Before you begin, you will want to flame roast the fresh chilies, bell pepper, (if using) and tomato, as well as dry toast the dried chilies, garlic, and seeds.
Flame roast the fresh hot red chilies, sweet bell pepper (if using), and vine ripe tomato before you proceed with the recipe. (see here). Once they are roasted and sweated, peel off the skins of the chilies and bell pepper, remove the seeds, and chop. Peel the tomato and remove the seeds, pith and juice, and mince.
Prepare the dried chilies. Place them in a dry hot skillet over medium heat, pressing them against the bottom of the skillet with a spatula for about 30 seconds. Flip them over and again press them against the bottom of the skillet for another 30 seconds. Promptly remove them and set aside to cool. Once they are cool, slit them open, remove stems and most of the seeds and place them in a bowl. Pour boiled water over them and set aside for 20 minutes to soften. Drain off the water and finely chop.
And finally, lightly toast the garlic cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and caraway seeds (if using) in a dry heated skillet until they are aromatic and lightly toasted. Peel the skin off the garlic and set aside. Finely grind the toasted seeds in a mortar and set aside.
You are now ready to proceed with preparing the harissa.
Place the chopped flame roasted fresh chilies, chopped flame roasted sweet pepper (if using), chopped tomato, chopped toasted dry red chilies, and the roasted garlic in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients resemble a course puree.
Add the toasted ground cumin, coriander, and caraway (if using), lemon juice, and salt and pulse until well combined. Then, with the machine running, begin adding the olive oil in a slow steady stream until the harissa is thick and relatively smooth. Taste, adding more salt as needed and pulse until combined.
Transfer the harissa to a sterilized jar and jiggle the jar to even out the surface. Pour a little olive oil over the surface which seals in the flavor. Seal the jar tightly and refrigerate for up to 6 weeks or more.
Preserved lemons are most often associated with Moroccan cooking, but a long tradition of preserving lemons is found across North Africa, the Middle East, as well as South and South East Asia. The process is remarkably simple. Salted lemons are placed in a preserving jar, compressed, covered with additional lemon juice, sealed, and set aside for a month or so to soften. The resulting flavor is intensely lemony, while mildly sweet sans tartness, with heavenly perfume that intoxicates the senses. It is a cooks dream! A secret ingredient that elevates any dish to the extraordinary!
You need not limit yourself to using preserved lemons in Moroccan, Middle Eastern, or Asian traditional dishes either. Apply them as you would to any dish that you might normally add a splash of lemon juice to bring it to life. You will be amazed that such a subtle slight of hand can produce a whole new perspective to cooking with lemons. A staple you will want to have on hand in your larder at all times, keeping in mind it will take a month to replenish as your cache dwindles.
Needed: a sterilized preserving jar with tight fitting lid.
- 6 fresh lemons
- crystalline sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 2 lemons, juiced as needed
Choose the freshest unblemished lemons you can find. Scrub them with a soft brush under running water.
Heat some water until hot, but not boiling. Place the scrubbed lemons in a bowl and pour the hot water over them and set aside for a day. Repeat the same process for 2 more days. This will soften the skins and make the lemons more porous for preserving, especially if the lemons are thick skinned.
Pat the lemons dry and using a sharp knife cut deep slices into the lemon lengthwise, starting just below the stem and cutting to within a quarter inch of the bottom. This will hold the lemons together for salting. Repeat, slicing the remaining three sides of the lemon and set aside. Repeat, with five more lemons, reserving 2 for juicing later.
Using your fingers press salt into the slices in the lemons generously.
Sprinkle a little salt in the bottom of the preserving jar and press 2 of the lemons into the bottom of the jar, using a wooden pestle or a wooden bean masher if you happen to have one. Press the lemons until they release their juice. Sprinkle a little salt over the lemons and add 2 more lemons on top. Press them vigorously, again until they release their juice. Sprinkle with salt and add the remaining 2 lemons and press them down into the jar. Continue pressing until the lemons are tightly packed into the jar and their juices nearly covering them.
Add enough squeezed lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. Give them one more final press, seal the jar and set aside.
For the next several days, open the jar and press the lemons down into the jar daily, redistributing the juice around the lemons. From this point on simply turn the jar upside down each day for about a month.
To use the lemons once they are well preserved, remove a lemon and cut into quarters. Remove the pulpy flesh (which can, by the way, be used to flavor soups and stews, as can the brine) and seeds. Slice the lemon skins into strips to be used in whatever applications you have in mind.
Reseal the jar and set aside for several months at room temperature. Occasionally, a white mold may appear on parts of the lemons that are not submerged in the brine. It is harmless! Just remove it should it appear.
Voila! A whole new ingredient to add to your kitchen repertoire.
Here is an exotic spiced crudite, if you will, to serve as an hors d’oeuvre preceding a Moroccan meal or for any occasion for that matter. The sweet and savory combination of flavors and aromas peaks the taste buds and conjures up a momentary flight of fancy into the medinas of Casablanca, Marrakech, or Fez where the essence of Morocco’s alluring cuisine flourishes in markets, homes, restaurants, and cafes.
May favorite accompaniment to serve with these spiced carrots is Harissa or Muhammara (see here). A very unusual taste bite to serve with drinks or along with a Moroccan meal.
Moroccan Spiced Carrots serves 8
6 plump carrots, peeled
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 375f/190c
Equipment: baking tray
Slice the peeled carrots in half crosswise and cut each half into 1/4 inch thick wedges lengthwise. A mandolin is useful here, but sliced by
hand is perfectly fine. Another alternative is to slice carrot into rounds, again about 1/4 inch thick.
Combine the brown sugar and oil in a small sauce pan set over low heat and stir until the sugar is melted and combined with the oil.
Heat a saucepan half filled with water and bring to a full boil. Promptly add the carrot wedges. Once the water comes back to a full boil continue to cook the carrots for 1 minute.
Promptly tip the blanched carrots onto a kitchen towel and pat dry quickly, then tip them into the bowl with the sugar and oil and toss to coat the carrots evenly.
Transfer the carrots to a baking try and place in the oven and roast for 30 to 35 minutes.
While the carrots are roasting, combine the coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds in a small dry pan and toast them until they are fragrant. Transfer them to a mortar, or spice grinder, and grind until they are fairly fine. Add the ground seeds to a mixing bowl and add the cinnamon, salt, and pepper and stir until combined.
Once the carrots are a deep orange color and tender, but not overly limp, remove them from the oven and tip them into the bowl with the seasoning mix and toss until the carrots are evenly coated on all sides. Transfer the carrots to a clean tray and set aside until completely cool.
Once cooled the wedges can be halved lengthwise or served as they are. They can also be refrigerated for later use.
Arrange the spiced carrots on a serving tray along with a favorite sauce as an accompaniment for dipping.
….with food from the Eastern Mediterranean.
M’hammar (mahammar) chicken is prepared in a myriad of ways throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, and North Africa. Essentially a spit roasted marinated chicken, but regionally braised and roasted as well.
The spit roasting bit will surely deter all but those of you who happen to have a rotisserie grill, but there is a way to get around this conundrum and enjoy the pleasures of this aromatic succulent chicken coming out of your own kitchen oven. Of course you could just go out and pick up a rotisserie chicken and slather it with your own charmoula sauce, but read on and see if you can be persuaded otherwise, and give it a try?
The trick here is roasting the chicken in a cast iron Dutch oven roaster, a kind of tandoor oven effect, with a surprising rotisserie like result.