Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hurts So Good!

From time to time, I donate private cooking lessons and dinner to various organizations to auction for a fundraiser. This weekend, I did dinner for eight and the high bidders wanted me to demonstrate dishes with lamb ("but not chops"). For some reason, I was in the mood for North African food or other Arab-inflected food, so I cooked up a tagine, a couscous, a couple of other dishes, and a big batch of harissa.

Harissa is a common red chile-based table sauce or condiment in North Africa (and naturally in the south of France because of the immigrants from North Africa). Although it is available commercially, I can make a quart of it in less than two minutes from ingredients that I already have on hand in my pantry and it tastes better than any canned product I’ve ever tasted. I truly love harissa and am always looking for a chance to introduce newcomers to it.

I don't think any of my guests were familiar with harissa, based on the questions they were asking. One of them said, "this tastes like hot sauce with flavor!" I noticed at first everyone was being very careful about the harissa—it is very spicy—but that most everyone kept tasting and tasting it. Yes, it hurts so good!

This is my personal spice mix scaled to non-restaurant proportions—adjust it to your taste. Also, I never measure anything; I just eyeball the ingredients and then adjust the seasoning depending on my mood.

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup sambal oelek* (or other crushed chile paste)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pimentón (smoked paprika)
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Toast the seeds in a pan over medium flame, tossing or stirring, until warm and fragrant. Grind half the seeds immediately in a spice mill. Mix the whole seeds, the ground seeds, and all the other ingredients, then taste for seasoning. Excellent with couscous, lamb, chickpeas, eggplant, and so forth. Tastes better after a day or so in the refrigerator.

*Sambal oelek is not traditional. In Africa, rehydrated dried red chiles (or sometimes fresh red chiles) are ground in a mortar. I just skip that step and use Huy Fong's sambal oelek, which we buy by the gallon. Nor is pimentón authentic. But many times harissa is made from chiles dried over a smoky fire, as are the peppers that are ground to become pimentón.

1 comment:

  1. The Harissa was greeeaat! Ed Beth and I had a great time.