Have you heard of harissa? It’s a spicy North African condiment made from chili peppers, spices, and oil, which comes in the form of a paste. A couple of years ago, Food & Wine and Business Insider both predicted that it would be the next Sriracha and at the end of 2016, Uproxx asked the same question. Unfortunately, harissa is not quite as ubiquitous as the beloved green-capped bottle of rooster sauce, yet, but its popularity is on the rise thanks to a growing interest in African cuisine – according to The New York Times, Forbes, Bloomberg, and others. You might find it on the shelves of your local grocery store soon but before that happens, what is harissa and how can we cook with it?
What is Harissa?
Harissa is a spicy chili paste that is made from hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, cumin, coriander, and mint. Depending on which country you are in, the brand you buy, or the personal taste of the cook, the spices in harissa may vary. It is not unusual to find harissa that also contains tomatoes and rose petals. Harissa is popular across North Africa and the Middle East, but its origins have been traced to Tunisia, where it is known as the national condiment. Harissa’s flavor has been compared to Sriracha — it has even been called “the next Sriracha,” but there are distinct differences between the flavor, texture, and how you use each condiment. Both harissa and Sriracha are made by blending chili peppers but while Sriracha is a hot, tangy, and slightly sweet sauce, harissa is a hot, citrusy, and earthy paste. While Sriracha comes in a squeeze bottle, Harissa comes in jars, tubes, cans, and even in spice powder blends, so you can make your own at home. We also use them in different ways, which we’ll get into next.
How Do You Use It?
While you can drizzle Sriracha over anything and everything you eat, harissa is used to enhance flavors in cooking. It is traditionally used as a marinade for meat and fish, but we can use it to flavor tofu, tempeh, and vegetables, too. Read The Ultimate Guide to Making Flavor-Packed Marinades for Plant-Based Dishes and then try adding harissa to give your dish some North African flavor.
Harissa is also used as a base for tagine, a Moroccan stew that is cooked in an earthenware pot. Traditionally, tagine includes meat, but it can easily be made meatless. This Roasted Veggie Tagine is packed with root vegetables that are cooked in a spicy harissa-based stock. This Seitan Tagine With Apricots and Dates blends harissa paste along with the spices to make it sweet, spicy, and smoky. Because harrisa goes so well with stews, it’s easy to incorporate in familiar dishes to give them a kick, like this Moroccan Chili or for something meatier, try these Harissa Lentil Quinoa Veggie Meatballs.
Although harissa comes from North Africa, all of the ingredients to make your own can be found at most grocery stores. Here is a great recipe to make your own Harissa at home and adjust it to your preferred level of spiciness.
Make Your Own Harissa
It’s easy to make your own harissa at home and requires minimal special equipment. All you need is a small, blade-style coffee grinder like this KRUPS F203 Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder ($15.12 for a 4-ounce grinder) or a granite mortar and pestle with a deep well, like this VonShef Solid Granite Mortar and Pestle ($21.95) to grind the whole spices and a blender to mix everything together. This recipe for Harissa is very simple and customizable. Try adding your favorite fresh herbs to the base recipe, such as cilantro or mint. So, when you are making your own harissa, remember that it is okay to adjust the level of spiciness and herbs to your taste.
Where to Buy
If you are lucky enough to live near a Middle Eastern or African grocery, you might be able to find harissa there. You might also be able to find it in specialty grocery stores or the international aisle of your local grocery store. There are also a lot of options online. This Dea Harissa Paste is $6.91 for two convenient 4.2-ounce tubes. This canned Harissa by Du Cap Bon is $6.93 for a 5-ounce can and is perfect for using as a marinade for tofu and tempeh. Or, you can pick up this 8-ounce jar of Harissa Paste By Zamouri Spice for $10.95 which is good for tagines, stews, and couscous. For a dry spice blend that you can use to make your own harissa, try this you can pick up a 1.9-ounce bottle of this Frontier Organic Harissa Seasoning for $4.09.
More Recipes Using Harissa!
Now that you know what harissa is, it’s time to try it out in your cooking! This Spiced Chickpeas With Harissa and Tamarind and this Stewed Great Northern Beans With Harissa, they both use spices and ingredients common in African cuisine and will add authentic flavor to your dishes. You can also use Harissa for adding spicy, smoky flavor to your roasted vegetables. The filling in these Moroccan Potato Lentil Tacos With Harissa is cooked in a broth seasoned with harissa and North African spices, like you would a tagine. The chickpeas in this Roasted Spiced Cauliflower and Harissa Chickpea Salad are tossed in a tomato and harissa blend before being paired with roasted cauliflower and these Harissa Sweet Potato Fries With BBQ Sauce are simply seasoned with harissa before going in the oven.
You can also use harissa as a sauce for flatbread, pizza, and burgers. The center of this Harissa Flatbread With Olives and Jalapeño is packed with spicy flavor and while this Smoky Harissa Vegetable Tart is on the milder side. Or, just try it as a sauce, as in these Mini Brown Rice Lentil Burgers With Harissa and this Crispy Cornmeal Crusted Eggplant With Smoky Harissa! Cooking should always be fun, so get creative incorporating harissa into your favorite dishes, like soups, stews, as a marinade for tofu and tempeh, or even just as a dipping sauce for French fries.
Have you tried harissa? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!
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Lead image source: Harissa