Harissa Paste

Harissa Paste 1

Harissa is a North African spice paste often used to marinate meats. The traditional paste is a combination of various chillies, cumin and coriander. Some also add caraway seeds and rosewater. I'm keeping mine simple by using what I have.

The first time I made this I didn't have any fresh chillies on hand, so I used dried red chillies instead which I softened in boiling water. I noticed that the dried chillies had almost a smoky flavour to them which changed the flavour of the paste and I loved it. I have made this paste several times over, changing a few things here and there until I got what I felt was good enough. The best thing about these kind of recipes is that you can easily customize it. You can use whatever chillies you have on hand, dried, fresh, frozen will all work. If you don't have the cumin or coriander seeds, you can used powder instead. Start with half the quantity though as ground spice is often stronger than whole spice.

I make my harissa paste in my Vitamix blender coz I like mine fairly smooth and Vitamix is pretty good at blending things. You can make your paste in any blender or food processor or even in a mortar and pestle, which I believe is the traditional way. I always make a big jar of paste and keep it in the fridge. I use it mostly to marinate chicken or fish but it also makes a good dressing. I often mix it with Greek yogurt or mayo and spread it on all kinds of things. Harissa mayo is heavenly! I use it in burgers a lot. Harissa as a dip is great with carrots or simply spread over vegetables and roast them for a nice roasted veggie salad! The possibilities are endless.

The ingredient quantities in this recipe may seem extreme to you, but remember that it makes a lot. In fact it makes enough to fill a 500ml jar. Also, regarding the amount of chilli, you can definitely adjust this to your liking. I like a spice kick, so I'm using quite a bit, but you can always use less. Alternatively, you can make the paste as per the directions below and mix it with yogurt just before marinating. The yogurt dumbs down the spice levels.

As mentioned, you can use whatever chillies you have on hand. Fresh or dried, all work well, just make sure you know how hot the chillies are before you use them! The ones I used were of a medium heat, if yours are hotter, use less and taste test as you go.

Ugeshni's Harissa Paste
Makes 1 jar
12 dried red chillies of choice
5 large garlic cloves (about 9 small cloves)
2 Tbs cumin seeds
2 Tbs coriander seeds
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup tomato paste (not tomato sauce)
1 Tbs coconut sugar (replace with brown sugar if you wish)
1/2 tsp salt
1 lemon, juice only

If using dried chillies, soak the chillies in a bowl by covering them with boiling water. Let stand for about 20 minutes then remove from the water. Reserve the water if you want to make a runnier paste.

Place chillies and all other ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth. You should end up with a fairly think paste. If you prefer it thinner, you can add some of the chilli water to thin it out.

Store in a jar in the fridge when not in use.