Move over, ketchup and sriracha. When it comes to versatile red condiments, harissa is my absolute favorite.
This Tunisian chile sauce is a fantastic shortcut to spice up a meal and can be used with meats, vegetables, couscous, roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs, even as a dip for bread. The list is endless.
I first encountered harissa in England and France, where its often sold in tubes, jars or cans. Then one day last year, at a food swap, I traded for a jar of homemade harissa.
It was much better than the store-bought versions, and ever since then, Ive made my own.
Each batch is a little different, depending on my mood and the chiles I have on hand. Its fun to play with variations some super spicy, others more sweet, smoky, earthy or fruity depending on the peppers.
To make harissa, the chiles are blended into a thick paste with garlic, olive oil and aromatic spices such as caraway and coriander (I like cumin, too). You can make it your own by adding a squeeze of lemon or herbs like mint, or even incorporating tomatoes or bell peppers.
Use the sauce in traditional Tunisian and Moroccan dishes, or go wild and spread it on pizza, hot wings, sandwiches and more. I love tossing it with roasted carrots, adding a dab to salad dressing and making harissa-spiked hummus.
PLACE the chiles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes.
TOAST the caraway, coriander and cumin seeds in a dry skillet over low-medium heat, occasionally shaking or stirring to prevent burning. When the spices are fragrant, remove them from the pan.
GRIND the spices in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder or coffee grinder.
DRAIN the chiles, reserving the liquid. Remove and discard the stems and seeds from the chiles. (It’s a good idea to wear gloves to protect your hands, and don’t touch your eyes or nose.)
COMBINE the chiles, ground spices, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor. (You can also use a mortar and pestle.) With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process to form a smooth and thick paste. Blend in a little of the chile-soaking liquid if needed to reach your desired texture.
TASTE and add more salt or other optional ingredients. (The flavor will deepen over the next day or two.)
TRANSFER the harissa to a jar and cover the surface with a thin layer of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for up to a month, topping with a little olive oil each time you use it.
NOTES: Use any chiles you like, either alone or a combination. For a very mild harissa, use roasted red bell peppers. To use fresh chiles, use twice as many fresh as dried (e.g., 8 ounces total fresh instead of 4 ounces total dried). You can also use a mix of fresh and dried. YIELD: About 1 cup
Anjali Prasertong is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a website for food and home cooking.