Hurrah for Harissa!

I was craving harissa the other day and longed to find a delicious recipe I used quite a while ago.  Harissa is an addictive, blazing hot chile condiment, often including cumin, caraway (important), coriander, lots of garlic, and bound together with olive oil, much like a pesto.
This particular harissa was one of the stars of an amazing African Dinner I created several years ago for Dinner Classics, an international cooking class series.  The evening featured an African Art collection showcased by a local art gallery, and pairings of fantastic wines – African and otherwise.
It was an ambitious undertaking but well worth the effort, since at that time African cuisine was fairly unfamiliar to most.  The recipe is still buried away somewhere, but I recall one of the dinner appetizers was a popular street food, samosa,  fried pastry stuffed with a mixture of cooked potatoes, onions, peas, coriander, lentils or a meat item such as chicken, lamb or beef.   Doro wat was also included;  a fabulously spicy Ethiopian chicken stew often eaten out of hand with a large thin sourdough pancake style bread called injera bread; and there was the wonderful South African curry finished with a custard topping, bobotie.  (Note to self:  find that file!)

I’m still looking for the lost file, but went with this very reliable version of harissa from another favorite standby, Mediterranean Light cookbook, by Martha Rose Shulman. This sauce is quite good on literally anything that benefits from a spicy kick – from egg foo young to stuffed cabbage!  


Inspired by Marta Rose Shulman’s Harissa in Mediterranean Light cookbook.

 20 dried hot red chile peppers
1 tsp caraway seed
½ tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
 ½ tsp salt
approximately 1 cup boiling water
3 Tbsp olive oil
  1. Place chile peppers in a small bowl and pour boiling water to cover over them; let them soak approximately 45 minutes.  Drain them and reserve 1-2 Tbsp water; de-stem and seed, if desired.
  2. Meanwhile, grind the spices and set aside.
  3. Place the chile peppers in blender or food processor, add 1-2 Tbsp. of  the water and puree; add the spice mixture, garlic, salt, and puree. Slowly add approximately 2 Tbsp. olive oil to form thick sauce.
  4. Transfer to a bowl or storage container.  Cover with remaining olive oil and seal tightly.  Yield: @ 1/3 cup.