Every Cuisine boasts a hot condiment. Just look at my Hot Sauce Happy Family! Harissa is the one we grew up with in Morocco, slathering it everywhere except maybe on toast at breakfast time. Children, no need to fight about who has the BEST Hot Sauce, as you see we can all play in the big sandbox!
Harissa, a fiery pepper relish that originated in North Africa, invariably elicits the same placid comment from my brother Toby: “Mmm….Confiture!” For most of us, however, this condiment is no kin to jam and should be used sparingly. I don’t want a heartburn on my conscience! On the side, please: Some don’t like it hot!
Few condiments suffer from commercial processing as much as this one. I think I have an idea why this is so: the main culprit is garlic powder. In my book, garlic powder gets the grand prize for ruining a dish at the speed of sprinkling. The second it lands on food, it is all over. Why use it at all? Fresh garlic is ubiquitous and costs pennies. Just take a garlic clove, cover it with the wide side of a knife, and smash it in one stroke of your hand (I find the base of the thumb the most effective): The garlic won’t feel the pain, and the clove will slip right out of its skin. Okay, I agree, it will take a few seconds more than just sprinkling its vile granulated counterpart, but you will be rewarded with a far superior end product.
Although connoisseurs (including this one) will insist that authentic Harissa is made with water-reconstituted dried red hot peppers, I find that they are not readily available, so I devised this fabulous recipe with dried hot pepper flakes, with identical results. This condiment is the classical accompaniment to couscous, and is also delicious served with fried fish and grilled chicken. Diluted with a little water and lemon juice, it is also a superb marinade for beef, fish or chicken, even vegetables. (In a marinade form, it is called chermoula).
- ¾ cup crushed red pepper flakes, mixed with two cups boiling water, and reserved (use up to 1 cup hot pepper flakes, if you want it extra hot)
- 1 large bunch cilantro, tough stems cut off (1 cup tightly packed leaves)
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 ¼ cups paprika
- 3 tablespoons cumin
- salt and pepper to taste
Grind the cilantro and garlic in a food processor. With the motor running, add the oil gradually. Add the paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and red pepper flake mixture, and process for a few more seconds. Some of the pepper seeds will stay whole. Transfer to widemouth glass jars, and keep refrigerated.