Harissa

Harissa

Harissa, a thick flaming-red paste, oozes Mediterranean zest with
a tantalising clash of bold tastes, uniting crushed garlic, dried chilli
and sharp seasonings to embody the essence of Tunisian cuisine.

Origins
The Spanish first introduced the red-hot harissa chilli peppers of the New World to Tunisia in the 1500s, bringing a little more heat to the country’s cooking. The term ‘harissa’ derives from the Arabic ‘to break into pieces’, harking back to the crushing of desiccated chillies in a pestle and mortar that gave birth to this fiery condiment, and it was the Arabs who introduced the paste to Moroccan cuisine, finding the local dishes a little too bland.

SERVES 4

You’ll need
3 large dried red chillies,
stems removed (double the
chilli quantity to ramp up
the spicy hit)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and
chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp caraway seeds
Salt (to taste)
Olive oil

Cooking Method
1 Roughly chop the chillies and soak them in boiling water for about an hour.
2 Drain and dry the chillies with a paper towel before placing them in a blender along with the garlic, coriander, cumin and caraway seeds.
3 Season with a little salt and a dash of olive oil, and blend together until the ingredients become a thick, smooth paste.
4 Spoon the mixture into a clean jar and cover with a 1cm (½ in) layer of olive oil. You can store it in the fridge for several weeks.
TIP Harissa enlivens many Tunisian dishes, including breads, eggs, salads, pasta and couscous, and is said to aid digestion.

Tasting notes
Feast your eyes on seductive mounds of harissa as you meander through a bustling freshproduce souk (market), before stopping for lunch in the heaving heart of an ancient Tunisian medina. Begin with a simple serving of harissa topped with olive oil, inhaling the deceptively sweet chilli scent before plunging a slice of tabouna (Tunisian flat bread) into the mix; wait for the kick to come. Savour how garlic granules and chilli chunks fire up the smoky roasted peppers, tomatoes and smooth oils of a salade mechouia, or drizzle a little harissa over plain couscous and taste those traditionally tame grains spring to life as the spice sinks in. Wash away the burn local style with thé à la menthe (mint tea).

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