Hurrah for Harissa!

I was craving harissa the other day and had to dig out this long forgotten African recipe.   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 sauce 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.  I hope the file is buried away somewhere and not lost, but I recall one of the 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.   There was doro wat, 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!)
However, in the interest of time this version of harissa comes from the always reliable Mediterranean Light cookbook, by Martha Rose Shulman.  It’s really delicious.  Did I say that yet?

Actually, I’ve been enjoying it with Chicken Tagine and Couscous, another blast from the past.  Tagines are so popular in Morocco that they actually have their own pot created just for that purpose – as does couscous.  If I can get my act together, I’ll at least share that with you soon!
In the interim this sauce is good on literally anything that benefits from a spicy kick – from egg foo young to stuffed cabbage!  No kidding.

Inspired by Martha Rose Shulman’s 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
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.
Meanwhile, grind the spices and set aside.
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.
Transfer to a bowl or storage container.  Cover with remaining olive oil and seal tightly.  Yield: @ 1/3 cup.

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