When working with spices in your cooking, it’s important to get the balance right. Between spicy, smoky, salty, tangy, sweet, and everything in between, a perfect balance can be tricky to master. One blend we turn to when looking for the perfect combination is Harissa. Whether for marinades, sauces, curries, or slow-cooks, Harissa paste is sure to add a great kick of flavour.
Originating in North Africa, Harissa paste is used all over the Middle East to prepare a wide range of dishes. Harissa paste is to the Middle East what your standard red chilli paste is to other regional cuisines and is a staple in every cook’s pantry.
One major ingredient in preparing Harissa paste is olive oil. It not only helps to create a viscous paste from the ground powder, but adds an earthy grassiness that works beautifully with the spicy flavour. Sweet peppers are then ground down into a paste and incorporated into the powder giving it a velvety texture and not that of a runny sauce, as well as a sweet, smokiness to offset the heat.
Health Benefits of Harissa Paste
The red peppers used in making harissa paste are loaded with vitamin C, E, B6, K minerals, copper, and manganese. Harissa paste is known as the powerhouse of vitamin E as it brings a strong antioxidant content to it. The capsaicin that brings the authentic taste of this paste is known to reduce inflammation and blood pressure, as well as help with digestion and immune-boosting.
Like many staple blends and spiced condiments, there are many variations of Harissa. However, the essential spices that are incorporated into an authentic harissa paste recipe are:
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 and its seeds are a rich source of iron, promote digestion, and help treat inflammatory diseases.
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 a citrusy flavour. The seeds are dry-roasted to release their essential oils then either left whole or gently ground down before being incorporated into dishes. These seeds also have health benefits as they help tackle diabetes, ease digestion, facilitate hair growth and keep a check on cholesterol levels.
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 a range of health-benefiting minerals, vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants.
A dried seed extracted from the fennel herb, fennel seeds are green in colour with a similar look to cumin seeds, and have a sweet aroma. To derive the optimum flavour from this spice, either pound, dry roast, or grind them. They help to regulate blood pressure, reduce water retention, purify the blood, and improve eyesight.
This widely-used spice has a pungent taste with a subtle, sweet aroma and is well-known for its culinary versatility and medicinal properties. Whether used in sweet or savoury dishes, Cinnamon has a warm and comforting effect that teams seamlessly with other spices. Cinnamon is known to be a great remedy for settling the stomach, improving blood circulation, digestion, and boosting your metabolism.
The kind of chillies you use for this recipe depends on the level of heat you want in your paste. With the many chilli varieties around the world, one has its own distinct flavour and heat intensity. Combining chillies in a dish increases not only their heat rating, but 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. To learn about which is the right chilli for you, check out our Guide to Different Chillies & How to Use Them.
How To Use Your Harissa Paste?
Harissa has a wide range of uses in the kitchen. From soups, to stews, to marinades, to dips, you can bring the flavours of harissa into just about anything that needs a little extra kick.
Here are a few of our favourite ways of incorporating Harissa Paste into your dishes:
- Hummus– It can be used to give a smoky flavour to hummus.
- Salad dressing– You can incorporate harissa into a lemony salad dressing.
- Rub for meats– Use as an instant rub for chicken legs, lamb, beef, or pork.
- Sauce with yoghurt– Beat yoghurt into harissa to make a zingy and refreshing sauce for grilled meats such as lamb chops.
- Roasted Vegetables – Harissa’s exotic flavour goes well with sweet vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, fennel, corn, etc. Simply roast them and drizzle Harissa paste over the vegetables.
- Pasta – If you like your pasta spicy, add Harissa to it! Simply make your basic tomato pasta sauce before stirring through a good dollop of Harissa – a classic family-favourite with an added spicy kick
- Chicken wings– Harissa makes a great spicy condiment for chicken wings
- Burgers– Mix harissa paste into your burger mince or blend it into the mayo for adding a zingy taste
Tips for Cooking with Harissa Paste
Start with sparing amounts of the spicy paste to avoid adding too much heat to your dishes. Its flavour is pungent and depending on the chillies used, its heat can be extreme, so add a little and taste as you go.
Before decanting your paste from the jar, ensure that you stir it well. The oil and solids in the paste can separate when it stays stagnant, so a good stir will incorporate it back together. This will allow the olive oil to integrate well and create an even consistency.
How To Make Harissa Paste
For a quick whip-up recipe, simply blend our North African Harissa powder with double the amount of olive oil, a little crushed garlic, and a spritz of lemon juice.
The best part about making harissa paste recipe from scratch, is you can tweak the paste to suit your palate. This spicy condiment associated initially with Middle Eastern and North African cuisines has evolved into a household favourite. To make the very best one for your kitchen, you need the following ingredients:
Dried Peppers of Varying Heat
Using a mix of dried peppers from the mild, smoked, to the medium and hot varieties gives you the best results. The more variety you bring to your harissa paste recipe, the more complex the flavours. If you like it spicier, increase the dose of hot chillies, if you like it smokier, add a smoked chilli variety like Smoked Chipotle.
To make, simply add all the dried chillies to a large pot of boiling water. When they come to a boil, turn off the stove, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and allow the chillies to soak overnight or at least for a few hours. After draining the softened peppers, remove their seeds, stems and rinse them well under running water before blending with the other ingredients to make the paste.
A traditional harissa paste incorporates caraway, cumin, and coriander seeds. For an added depth of flavour, you may also add clove, cinnamon, or smoked paprika. Dry roast your whole spices over medium heat to release their aromatic fragrance and flavour, then grind the spices to a fine powder using either a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Pungent Garlic Cloves
Garlic is an excellent addition to any harissa paste. Not only does it add a wonderfully savoury flavour, but garlic has a range of health benefits like building immunity and aiding in digestion. When cooking with garlic, its pungency tends to mellow and takes on a sweet tinge. For this paste, you need the pungent garlicky kick, which comes through when you grind the garlic cloves with the other ingredients.
Healthy Olive Oil
Slowly drizzling olive oil into your running food processor as it blends all the harissa paste ingredients together helps to form a thick, viscous paste. As you do, be sure to occasionally scrape down the liquid from the sides to ensure the oil incorporates well. Olive oil not only adds a delicious grassy flavour, but is high in healthy fats and acts as a natural preservative. It seals the paste from exposure to air, thereby preventing it from spoiling.
To finish off, add a sprinkling of salt and a dash of lemon juice. Transfer the prepared paste into a jar and refrigerate.
Where To Buy Harissa Paste?
Today, you can find many authentic store-bought pastes in gourmet grocers or online stores. However, if you’re up for making it yourself at home – it’s just as simple! See our wonderful blend to make whipping up this delicious condiment easy – North African Harissa.