The roots of this intensely spicy concoction are believed to have originated in the North African region, Tunisia to be precise. It derives its unique name from the Arabic word ‘harasa’ which literally translates into, ‘to pound’. This Harissa paste, though often used as a condiment, also forms an integral part of some recipes.
There are different variations of this spice blend. The essential spices that are incorporated into an authentic harissa paste recipe are:
Earthy Cumin Seeds
By dry roasting the cumin seeds before grinding them, their natural oils release their true goodness and bring out the lovely aroma of this slightly bitter and savoury spice. Cumin is an integral ingredient of a typical harissa paste recipe. Cumin seeds are a rich source of iron, promote digestion, and help treat inflammatory diseases.
Flavourful Coriander Seeds
Another popular spice widely used across many cuisines is coriander seeds. These seeds are brown in colour with a hollow cavity, have a floral fragrance and citrusy flavour. Dry roasting releases their essential oils. These seeds also have health benefits as they help tackle diabetes, ease digestion, facilitate hair growth and keep a check on cholesterol levels.
Warming Caraway Seeds
Similar in appearance to cumin seeds, caraway seeds are dark brown in colour with a crescent shape. More of a savoury spice, caraway seeds are warm and sweet with a slight peppery aroma. Mostly used in small quantities, caraway seeds boast of health benefiting minerals, vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants.
Aromatic Fennel Seeds
A dried seed extracted from the fennel herb, fennel seeds are green in colour, resemble cumin seeds and have a sweet aroma. To derive the optimum flavour from this spice, either pound them, dry roast them or grind them. They help regulate blood pressure, reduce water retention, purify the blood and improve eyesight.
Fragrant Ground Cinnamon
This sweet flavoured spice has a pungent taste and smell and is known for its culinary and medicinal properties. Cinnamon lends a lovely aroma to every recipe and when consumed, has a refreshing, warm and comforting effect. In addition, cinnamon is also known to settle your stomach, improve blood circulation, digestion and boost your metabolism.
Punchy Dried Red Chillies
The kind of chillies you use for this recipe depends upon the level of heat you desire from this chilli paste. Each variety of chilli has its distinct flavour and heat intensity. Combining chillies in a dish can increase their flavour complexity. Some chillies when consumed produce sharp sensations at the back of the throat while others ignite a lingering low-intensity burning sensation on the tongue.
The above spices are blended and mixed with either olive oil or vegetable oil, to form a thick paste. This process also helps this chilli-laden condiment to last longer.