I really need to get this emblazoned on a T-shirt. I feel it’s quite an achievement. Harissa is a north African spice paste with chilli, garlic and oil at its heart. I’ve found there’s great variation in recipes with coriander seeds, caraway and cumin seeds often included along with mint sometimes. Some recipes require the chillies to be blanched before whizzing up in the food processor and others use raw chillies. It’s very simple to make and keeps well in the fridge as long as it is kept covered in oil.
My harissa journey began earlier last year when I had a lesson in seed catalogues. It went something like this:
The Husband (TH): I’m gonna grow some chillies this year, do you want to see? (Rustling, gets out seed catalogue and leafs through to the chilli section).
Me: Yeah, sure, go on.
TH: This one (pointing) Apaches, this one (flicking through pages and more pointing) Paper lanterns, this one, Scotch Bonnets and this one…
Me: Wait what? Scotch Bonnets? What on earth am I going to do with those? You know they’re all, like, really REALLY hot right?
TH: Oh yeah, look here…….mumble, mumble, Scoville units. I’m sure you’ll figure something out…….
Well, I did figure something out. I made harissa and I also made a batch of chilli pepper jam. And there were quite a few chillies that made it into the freezer. I have a belief that freezing may dull the heat of the chillies but the jury is still out on account of one or two rogue chilli’s bucking the trend.
The harissa was a steep learning curve. Making it is easy enough as long as the necessary precautions are taken (personal protective equipment, gloves etc); it was eating it, that presented the challenges. I had a Goldilocks moment. I added it to soup to start with to try and make a dent in the jar. The first time I put ¾ of a teaspoon in a bowl for one. There were lots of tissues, streaming eyes and nose blowing and it took over half an hour for me to eat it. I’m not going to lie; I was in some considerable pain. There was also no time for my lunchtime walk. The second time I put in half a teaspoon. Marginally fewer tissues were required and I managed a fairly decent 20 minute walk. It was better than the first time but still not quite there. The third time I put in a ¼ of a teaspoon and it was just right. There was no pain, no tissues were required and it was a pleasure to eat. If I’m only using a ¼ of a teaspoon at a time I now find myself with a lot of harissa to get through so I’ve been putting it in EVERYTHING. Here are a few ideas if you find yourself in the same position.
- Soup, of course. Add to any kind of soup, which would benefit from a little chilli kick. Red lentil, tomato and sweet potato and coconut milk go quite well. As does butternut squash.
- Eggs. Stir through beaten eggs before scrambling them. Also goes in omelette.
- Mix through minced meat mixtures before cooking to add a spicy heat to meatballs, kofte and burgers.
- Pep up pies or a chilli with a spoonful (or half a spoonful depending on how hot your chillies are).
- Chilli goes with avocado, coriander, ginger, lime, fish and shellfish so add harissa to Mexican and Thai style dishes (this is probably sacrilege but if you have as much as I do to get through you’ll understand). It’s excellent in fish and crab cakes instead of chopped chilli.
- Stir through tomato-ey meat and vegetable stews to give it a North African feel.
- Use as a marinade for chicken, pork and fish before baking or frying.
- Add to tomato sauce for pasta or stir through mashed pumpkin or sweet potato.
- Stir through cous cous at the same time the water or stock is added.
- Use in place of chopped chilli where the recipe allows. This won’t always work. You’ll have to use your judgement based on what you need to do with the chilli.
Basically, put it in anything so long as it’s not going to be weird and out of place. Good luck! In the meantime here’s my recipe to add to burgers.
Harissa beef burgers
500g steak mince
1 tbsp steak or grill seasoning
½ tsp harissa – vary this depending on how hot your harissa is and how hot you like it
Olive oil for brushing
Brioche buns, tomato slices, red onion slices, gherkin, lettuce, American mustard and mayonnaise
Combine the mince, seasoning and harissa in a large bowl with your hands. Divide the mixture into 4 then form into tight balls then shape into patties. You need to make the burger shapes bigger than you would like the burgers as they will shrink when they cook. Heat a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Brush one side of the burgers with a little olive oil and then place oiled side down in the pan. Push your thumb into the centre of each burger to create an indentation. This will help prevent the burgers from buckling when they cook. Whilst in the pan brush the tops of the burgers with olive oil. Cook the first side for 3 – 5 minutes depending on how thick they are. Turn the burgers over and cook for a further 3 minutes. If you want cheese on your burgers place sliced cheese on the burger when you turn them over. Toast the buns and when the burgers are ready assemble with the other ingredients and eat with French fries on the side.