No i swear I’m not channeling Alicia Keys or Katniss Everdeen, though given today is Election day I really did feel like it was going to be a Hunger Games kind of day but that’s politico talk and this is a place of happiness and joy and kittens from time to time. My kitchen however; well on Sunday that place was probably as close to Hell as I have gotten in a while cooking wise. Why? Harissa..
What is harissa? Besides the living embodiment of Satan? It’s a spicy and rather aromatic chili paste which has roots in North African and Middle Eastern cooking and can be found on many a menu along side lovely dishes as babaganoush, hummus, chutneys, lamb kofta, beef kofta, shwarma, etc. It’s a versatile paste which can be used to any chili or stew as a flavor enhancer or even as a dipping sauce for chicken and bread. But man can it ever be spicy.
This weekend I got to try my hands and making it to pair it along side a Moroccan themed dinner I was having for some friends. Roasted lamb with glass herbs that had been sous vide for 30+ hours, babaganoush, hummus, morrocan stew, couscous, naan & lavish bread. It was quite a spread but I wanted to try something that could both compliment the lamb as well as possibly enhance it and of course me being me, the veritable unique snowflake that I am, I wanted to stay away from the normal traditional sauces that included mint, rosemary or yogurt. So I ventured forth into Hell. And like every good explorer I made sure to come well armed and prepared. I wore goggles…And my Deadpool hat because well..Deadpool.
The ingredients for this harissa weren’t to difficult to obtain. In fact you can pretty much find all of them in your ethnic aisle at your local grocery store. And if not I’m sure that any international grocery store will carry them. One suggestion would be to make sure you have gloves. I didn’t wear any and got a rather wicked capsaicin burn on my left hand from playing with the rehydrated peppers. And for the love of all that is Effie in the Hunger Game DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR YOUR BITS..YOU WILL HATE LIFE AND ALL THAT ARE AROUND YOU. If you do happen to touch your bits um, well…..Yeah I’m sorry.
So the ingredients are simple and as follows. Dried chili arbol peppers, cumin (ground or whole your choice), caraway seeds (ground or whole), sea salt, lemon, garlic, honey & olive oil. See? Nothing to fancy or expensive. It is however time consuming. You don’t think ti would be but it probably took me roughly an hour plus dealing with the peppers themselves. Sadistic bastards I hate you so so so so much >.< t(o.to). I’ll list all the ingredients and measurements at the bottom of the post.
The first thing you will want to do is make sure you really do have appropriate safety equipment because working with these peppers can cause potential breathing issues. Weather permitting keep a window open and a fan going to help draw out the fumes once you start working hands on with the peppers. Also make sure you have tissue nearby in case you start sneezing a lot. I do and my nose runs so I enlist in the assistance of my husband to act as my scrub nurse and help me out so I don’t run the risk of touching my face and doing my re-enactment of Elphaba from The Wizard of Oz and scream that my face was melting. In a large sauce pan you will want to take two cups of dried chili arbol peppers. No I’m not kidding, two cups of these little red seemingly innocuous peppers. Cover with tap water and bring to a boil on your stove and allow to boil for 10 minutes to help soften the peppers and re-hydrate. While this is happening you can prepare the rest of your ingredients which is to measure out your honey, olive oil, chop your garlic and get your lemon ready to go. Also get a colander and a blender handy.
Once your peppers have softened you will want to dump them in colander and start running water over them. This is where you will want to put on your disposable gloves because for the next hour or so you’ll be slicing these bad boys up and washing the seeds out of them as well as the ribs and pith. This will help eliminate some of the intensity that inherently lives in peppers. The burning sensation you get from peppers is caused by capsaicin which is a colorless, odorless, oily chemical found in peppers. This chemical binds itself to certain sensory neurons and transmits the feeling of being burned even though there is no actual physical burning going on. The majority of this chemical resides in the pith/ribs (white interior part of the pepper) so simply removing the seeds will not eliminate the devil in your mouth. You have to take care of the insides as well.
Once you’ve sneezed, coughed, had to blow your nose about a good 5-6 times and then successfully de-seeded/veined your peppers you can now start building your Hellmouth sauce. As you can see in the picture below, I was not happy at this point. NOT AT ALL >.< but I am a determined committed chef and I wanted to see this through because I actually do enjoy spicy food.
So its really simple after this part. You simply toss your ingredients into the food processor and mix till its a consistency you like. I roughly chopped my peppers first and then slowly incorporated the rest and came out with a lovely smooth paste which to me is more appealing to my taste buds. This can be paired with probably pretty much any protein or if you are adventurous, add this to your chip and salsa rotation at your next get-together. Just don’t invite me. Wait..no invite me because I wanna see if anyone cries ^.^
Harissa Dipping Sauce
- Makes roughly 1 cup
- 2 cups dried chili arbol (try subbing out for different peppers depending on your mood or if you truly do hate your dinner guests!
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1 tsp caraway, ground
- 2 tsp cumin, ground
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tbsp honey
- sea salt to taste
- boil the peppers for 10 minutes or until soft, drain into colander
- slice each pepper (or skip a few if you want to make it spicer) and remove all seeds under running water
- grind the chilis in a food processor mince by hand if you truly are that much of a culinary masochist until it resembles a thick paste.
- Mix remaining ingredients, adding more oil, water or honey to get the consistency you prefer (i added more honey to assist in muting the heat….it didnt work)