Tunisian-Style Harissa


Tunisian-Style Harissa
Tunisian-style harissa is a thick, brick-red paste of sun-dried chiles, sun-dried tomatoes, freshly ground spices, garlic and fruity olive oil. (The more familiar Moroccan harissa, by contrast, is thinner and contains only chiles, tomato paste and salt.) The best you can buy comes from Les Moulins Mahjoub and is available at Zingerman’s. You can also make a very good harissa at home, but I often leave out the sun-dried tomatoes for a simpler version. If you have good olive-oil packed sun-dried tomatoes on hand (the ones from Les Moulins Majhoub are also excellent), add a scant ¼ cup and expect the recipe to make closer to 1 cup of harissa.
Serves: Makes about ¾ cup
  • 2 ounces dried chiles, preferably a mix of guajillo and New Mexico or pasillas
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  1. Soak the chiles. Put the chiles in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. If the chiles float, weight them down with a small plate. Let them sit until softened, about 25 minutes.
  2. Toast the spices. Combine the coriander, cumin, and caraway in a small, dry skillet and heat over medium, shaking the pan to prevent burning, until fragrant and beginning to color, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder, let cool, and grind to a fine powder.
  3. Make the paste. Outfit a food processor with a chopping blade, and, with the motor running, drop the garlic cloves into the feed tube. Process until finely minced. Drain the chiles, and tear them into medium-small pieces, removing and discarding the seeds and stems. Add the chiles to the food processor along with the ground spices and the salt. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides, to make a course puree. Add the olive oil, and process briefly to incorporate (avoid overworking the olive oil, as that can turn it bitter).
  4. Pack in a jar. Transfer the paste to a clean glass jar—the paste may discolor plastic containers—packing it down with a small rubber spatula. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface (this preserves the flavor and color). Put a lid on the jar, and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Top off with olive oil after each use.


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