Food can change your mood, fact. For me, when I am ill, or more correctly, ill-tempered, I actively seek out getting slapped into sense, culinary style. You cannot control your reaction to chilli. So, any desire to mump, is banished the instant the heat disperses all over your mouth, making your eyes pop and zinging you into humour. While I can understand that a burning mouth can potentially be the fountain for anything but happy utterances, I tell you, it works for me. I am pepped, sorted, out of a daze. And the best cure in such circumstances hails from Tunisia…Harissa.

I first tried it in Aberdeen, where they came in bottles of such minuscule proportions that I used the entire contents in one meal. The heat wasn’t enough. Abolish any thought of the beetroot clad cheaters either. Other than colour, they serve no purpose. Frustrated, I decided to give making Harissa a go and I haven’t looked back since. I have tried a fair few recipes; Ottelenghi’s, Nadia Sawalha’s and others online, but I always return, perhaps somewhat masochistically, to Nigella’s recipe in How to Eat. Here the heat was unapologetic, the spices unrestrained. Other recipes included peppers which was good, and others bizarrely had tomatoes and sugar which made it a chutney, trying awkwardly to pace out the very hot, fiery nature of the paste. What’s the point in that?

Much depends on the strength of your dried chillies. Here I have used the dried Kashmiri chillies which are considered to be milder in heat but bursting with colour. It still has bite, but won’t ignite the sweat glands. I am also leaning towards experimenting with the dried, smokey Mexican chillis.  Being a coriander fiend, fresh or seeds, the three tablespoons worth in here, is the clincher for me, as well as the scent of caraway seeds. You can adjust the spice quantities to suit your taste. A lot of recipes that I have seen, rely only on cumin.

I implore you, deseed the chillis. That’s one. Two, wear CSI gloves or something to protect your hands. There is a lot of chilli to go through and the unpleasant effect of having the oil sear away at your skin for a couple of days is not worth the risk. I found the best way to deseed, was to cut along one edge of the chilli from bottom tip to the stem, split it open and let the seeds rain down into a bowl. Also it’s worth knowing that if you want to temper the heat of the chilli, then roast a couple of red peppers (or get them out of a jar; though since we are making a homemade paste, it makes sense to stick with the DIY theme), until blackened and soft. De – skin and blitz to a puree and blitz again with the Harissa. I would add one pepper at a time, check the heat levels, and add the second pepper as required.
The first thing I make after I have a full batch of freshly made Harissa is my Spicy Couscous. It is fitting, considering that this paste hails from Tunisia, where Couscous is a staple. Chuck in anything you want in here, but I generally go with canned chickpeas, spring onions, toasted pine seeds and a ridiculous amount of fresh coriander. Add the paste as per your limits. I quite like adding plumped up raisins, if I am in the mood for it. The paste is forked through all the ingredients and I increase the quantity according to taste. Know that feta too, all salty and sharp marries perfectly with the spices of harissa. Basically, it’s a thoroughly satisfying store cupboard meal for a chilli nutter.

If you are wondering what other uses you can put Harissa to, let me count the ways…

  • Marinade lamb chunks with the paste and barbecue/grill/saute to sit on top on a bed of coucous (minus the harissa), perhaps with an extra dollop on top to serve.
  • A different take on Roast Chicken; Cut your chook into large sections, marinade in a thinned version of the paste with Oil and lemon juice and roast till done.
  • Fish, is fantastic with this. White, firm, thick fillets, coated and fried in butter, are sensational. Nigella’s Indian roast potatoes, make a wonderful carb companion with.
  • Next time you make a fish stew, a dollop in or on, in the nature of a rouille, just brings it to a whole, new level.
  • Oily fish such as mackeral and sardines are the perfect partner for Harissa, the two strong flavours complementing each other. Brush the paste (thinned with some oil and lemon juice) on while grilling or sautéing. Mix some of the paste with yoghurt to serve on the side. 
  • Mixed with mayonnaise or creme fraiche, it makes a delicious dipping sauce for roasted potatoes, sweet or otherwise, as well as prawns.
  • It pairs beautifully with the mighty aubergine. Slice thickly into rounds, brush with oil and grill. Once tender and golden, brush with the paste and serve with  a cooling buttermilk or creme fraiche/touch of garlic/olive oil/ salt and pepper dressing on the side. 

So, there you have it. My love knows no limits, but my patience at typing is always a touch short. If you have any cherished ways of using Harissa, I would love to know.


Recipe from How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

60g dried, unsmoked red chillis, deseeded and finely chopped or snipped
6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt ( I reduce to 1 1/2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons coriander seed
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil

Put the chillies into a small bowl and cover with boiling water and let it soak for one hour. In an oiless frying pan, dry roast the spices until its lightly browned and headily aromatic – around 3 minutes – and bash to a powder in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Tip the powder into a food processor.

Pound the garlic and salt together and add it to the spice powder. Add the vinegar and drained chillies (reserving some of the liquid) and blitz to a paste. Scrap round the bowl and turn on the machine again, letting a thin stream of the olive oil drop into the pureé. Add a little of the soaking liquid, as you want this thick but not stiff. Taste and see if it needs more seasoning, vinegar or chilli. Decant into sterilised jars.

A jar will keep in the fridge for ages, with a film of oil over the top. Replenish the oil after each use.



43 thoughts on “Harissa

  1. jobakes

    I’m so making this with my cherry bombs Carrie – you beat me to blogging it! I must say, I’ve never put radish in my couscous but I love the look of it here :0)

    1. thePatternedPlate

      To be honest Jodie, if the radishes had their own peculiar heat, I would leave them out. However, these are nothing but watery crunch and that’s the only reason I bunged them in :-)) let me know how that one goes…am interested to see what you make of it!

      1. jobakes

        Hey hunny – I made the harissa with my bombs last night and “bomb” is the right word! Ooo-weeee were they HOT! I put half a tsp in with our couscous and it blew mine and hubby’s head off. I’m going to sieve out the seeds today as I didn’t when I made it but the flavour is just fabulous. I used cider vinegar as I had no sherry and I used 45g chillies instead of 60g as one, I didn’t want to use up my whole supply and two, I thought it would temper the heat a lil lol 😀

        1. thePatternedPlate

          Hahaha! I did warn you that one – this is the ultimate in hot and two – that you MUST deseed!!! I hold no responsibilities for any IBS issues as a direct result of disobedience lol! And yeah any vinegar goes…and if you want to curb the heat a touch, put in some sugar, it helps a wee bit.

          I spread my toast with harissa this morning! Mixed tuna and spring onions with it for a sandwich yesterday…had it smeared over pan fried fish last night for dinner…..me? Obsessed? Addicted? Nah man, its totally under control!

          1. jobakes

            aye, I thought of adding sugar but I’m sure sieving out the seeds will do. Gosh, poor BettyBobkin must be coming out in a sweat just reading this! I must say, speaking for myself, I really got a kick out of how hot it was – definitely not too much for me, poor hubs, well, the IBS should be kicking in any minute now, lucky he’s in work at this point… 😉

  2. NYinRome

    i have never ever made this , and have never ever thought of attempting it either….you certainly indulge. I love roasted chicken with harissa…..I´ve had such a satisfying apperativo and dinner tonite and am quite stuffed, but my mouth is watering after all these gorgeous photos and words….lol….lol… 😉

  3. Hazzer

    I need to make this, you have convinced me.
    Fantastic photos and writing. You are very good at this Mrs Smith.

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Aww Thanks Hazzer 🙂 Hope you do try it…be warned this is super hot. For your first trial, perhaps add some red pepper. At least then you know for next time, how far you can handle the heat :-))

  4. Rebecca

    That dish looks delish!!! And I must say, in my currently quite ill-tempered mood (as my husband will attest to) a searing dish sounds fitting. Thanks for the tip re: CSI gloves. WIll have to get my hands on a pair of those, no pun intended. I’ve been using a pair of dishwashing gloves but they are far too loose and I’ve sliced through them on more than one occasion.

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Ooh Ouch on the slicing front….definitely get yourself a box of those disposable gloves (make sure they are powder-free) and they come in handy in so many ways. Like rolling out cookie dough, mixing fish or meat through a masala (hey, it’s got turmeric in it, that stains nails badly!!) or a marinade, breadcrumbing (always a mess, the gloves just makes it so easy…no wet crumbed, claggy fingertips..ughh), chilli deseeding, prawn cleaning….you get the idea :-))

  5. melanie

    woohoo!!! now this is something I’m definitely going to try, like mum says its nice when someone else tries out different recipes and then tells you the one that works best .. hahaha!! plus the ideas you gave at the end are brilliant had so many thoughts running parallel in my mind while reading that…..

  6. Scrambled Megs

    this looks gorgeous and your blog is fantastic! thanks for sharing. i will subscribe to your blog. feel free to pop over and say hi sometime x

  7. rayandskye

    I love Harissa! Its my favorite condiment ever! I make mine pretty much the same as you but I don’t add vinegar. We put it on everything. One of the ways that I love to use it to fry eggs with a little of the harissa oil. So good!

  8. Thanh @ eat, little bird

    Beautiful post, as always!! I’ve never made harissa, although I love the variety which comes in tubes. You’ve inspired me to make it home asap! Though, I suspect that it will only be for my enjoyment as I’m sure my husband will keep his distance from anything this fiery hot!

  9. christyharcourt

    I heartily agree with your gripe that many Harissa recipes are disappointingly lacking in the eye watering heat that I so want and need! I made one last year and it was such an anti-climax, both in terms of taste and colour and general awesomeness, that I thrust it to the back of the fridge in disgust and threw it out some months later. Pointless. Yours looks much more like what I was expecting. Lovely dark red colour and dangerously inviting. Nearly late summer in New Zealand so I’ll be back to buying chillis in bulk soon! (I pick them myself, so much fun). Can’t wait. Thanks for this!

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Hello Christy, I am glad this Nigella recipe meets with your approval! I too, like you, have had many a languishing jar at the back of the fridge before, getting tossed when it started to get ‘fur’ lined…eccch! This one though, will warm them toes up for the NZ autumn 🙂

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Whoa!!!! I just checked! Ha! I’ve never won anything like that before! I am a bit dazed lol, and happy and humbled! But I have rambled incoherently on your blog, so won’t make a numpty of myself a second time round! But thankyou, thankyou heather, for your support and consideration!! Wheeeeeeee!!! 😀

    1. thePatternedPlate

      LOL Heather you bestower of good things! Two awards and one batch of delicious chocolate chip cookies! Thankyou so so much :-))

      And I’ve just published a new post..I know, its taken longer than usual, but I hope you like it!

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  13. Helenb

    looks delicious (and hot!) could i use green chilies do you think? I have a bunch of them from my garden and was thinking of some way to utilise the excess chilies. If you have some other ideas for green chilies as well that would be welcomed too! Great blog by the way.

    Cheers Helenb 🙂

  14. The Patterned Plate

    Thanks for posting Helen. I don’t think green chillis would quite work here. The flavours are so different I think. Red brings in a bit of a fruity element somehow, the flavour is riper whereas green chillis I find to be much sharper.

    Nigella’s Chilly Jam uses red peppers and red chillies which people have adapted using the same amount of green chilli and pepper. If you are a green pepper fan, this is one way to go and makes a wonderful, piquant accompaniment to cold meats, or used as a dip etc. Here is the link, http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/chilli-jam-2692

    What about canning some homemade hot green salsa with heaps of coriander (cilantro) and green chilli? That could use up a fair bit depending on the heat of your chilli.

    If it’s a mild one, Arabs pickle them in vinegar flavoured with dill to eat as a bite on the side with things like rich lamb kebabs etc.

    I love green chilli with guacamole too. Thai Green Curry paste is another way to go. I know it’s laborious and seems pointless when you get good shop bought stuff but it is better for it, if you have access to the other ingredients such as dried shrimp. You can do without, but it definitely adds to the final result.

    Hope some of these ideas help you cope with your chilly glut!

  15. Helenb

    Thanks for ideas…………..I think I might go with the green curry paste since I shop buy it anyway seems ridiculous to do that if I can make my own.
    Im tempted to pickle them too but might save that and Nigellas delicious looking chelly for a bigger crop of chillies as I do like them fresh and havent got lots of them.
    I also found some delicious recipes for fresh chili such as a chili lime sauce for fish and thai chicken balls so there looks like no waste on the home grown chilli front!

    cheers Helen 🙂

    PS: I read on my green curry paste recipe hunt that the paste can be frozen so if you make a batch you can put some in the fridge it will last several weeks and freeze in portioned amounts the rest. So might be laborious but at least not a waste so languishing at the back of the fridge shelf untouched and then thrown out.

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Sounds like a plan! The freezer is my friend too. I do the same with tinned coconut milk….I like the sound of your sauces too, so looks like you have plenty ways to use up your fresh chillis.

      CSI gloves…invaluable!!

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