Harissa: quick and dirty

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Woo, first post!

This is a sauce/paste that is almost always hanging out in our fridge. It’s by no means “authentic harissa” – I’d definitely look to other sources for that (e.g. Ottolenghi) – but it’s a variant that we find to be tasty.

This recipe is kind of a no-brainer – not exactly chock full of fresh ingredients, but that’s kind of what helps it come together super-quickly. A lot of the “work” is putting things in a cup and blending it. One bonus is that, because there are relatively few raw items (i.e. none), the sauce keeps pretty well for weeks at a time (though ours never lasts that long).

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the lineup

Some notes on the ingredients:

  • Chipotle peppers constitute the base of the sauce.  We’ve read that, of the dried peppers available here, they’re most similar to those found in North Africa.  One could alternatively use dried chipotles and reconstitute them, but the canned chipotles in adobo do contribute some undeniable flavor.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes can occasionally be found in harissa recipes.  We find that, in addition to the fried onions, adding a lot of them can substantially add to the base texture and umami.  We buy them in jars and press out the oil (reserving it for pan frying, usually).
  • Liquid smoke is a bit of a cheat ingredient, but it’s super delicious and emulates that fire-roasted aroma profile.  Apparently many restaurants are generally keen to use liquid smoke (though they rarely advertise that fact) wherever pan fried or blackened vegetables are present.
  • Miso is an unconventional harissa ingredient (lol or unheard of?), but we like throwing it in because it pairs well with the rest of the flavors, adding even more depth of umami to the peppers and tomatoes.  Things to look for when buying miso – that it’s MSG-free (mostly for flavor interest, not health concerns) and, if you’re into it, contains dried seafood ingredients like bonito flakes. Alternatively, you can get plant-based miso to make this sauce entirely free of animal products.
  • Treating the caraway seeds properly is key.  They need to be pan roasted until they’re fragrant and start to pop in the pan, and fully pulverized into a powder to release their medicinal flavor and aroma.

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Seriously. Just a wee bit of leg work, then throw everything into a cup and blend it to smithereens (or until you feel pleased).

It’s deeply, unabashedly umami. It’s got the kind of depth of flavor that can really jazz up simple lentils and rice. Or toast and eggs.

We like it paired with this equally oomph-y shakshouka and some fresh baked/fried homemade focaccia.

Cheers! ❤ les sauciers

Tools we use:

  • immersion blender + cup/blending vessel
  • knife + cutting board
  • frying pan (we use cast iron)
  • gram scale
  • mortar + pestle (or a spice grinder/clean coffee grinder will suffice)

Ingredients (makes about 2 cups):

  • 1 large onion, small dice
  • 7 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2/3 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 can chipotles in adobo (could be adjusted depending on spice tolerance level)
  • 1 can (~241g) sun-dried tomatoes, drained
  • 20 g miso
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 5 g liquid smoke (optional; we like smoky things)

How we do it:

  1. Dry toast the caraway seeds on medium heat until fragrant. remove from heat, then grind them by hand using a mortar and pestle (if you’re into the manual labor thing, go for it!) until they’re fairly powdery. Alternatively, a spice grinder will also do the trick just fine. Set aside.
  2. Fry the diced onion on medium-high heat until there are beginnings of some nice charred bits. Remove from heat and put the onions into your blending vessel.
  3. Throw the crushed garlic into the pan and fry until slightly browned, no more than a few minutes. Remove from heat and put the garlic into your blending vessel.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients into your blending vessel (including the toasted caraway seed powder), and blend it for a few minutes/until you’re satisfied with the texture. We like it on the thicker side.
  5. Smear it on everything, especially carbs. Feast.  There isn’t really much oil in this harissa, so adding it to taste (for that oil-separated effect) while serving can work. Alternatively, it can be watered down (with water and lemon juice) into a “pasta sauce” consistency and served over most anything.  Cooking nearly any vegetable and serving it with this stuff is always satisfying.

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