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What is the proper way to make Harissa, the north African spice blend/relish? I made one recently to go with my bulghur pilaf following Caludia Roden’s recipe, because it was easy and I had all the ingredients. She uses coriander seeds, dried chilies and caraway as a base. However Paula Wolfert uses onions, sundried tomatoes and no caraway in her “Slow Mediterranean Kitchen” recipes. How do you make yours? Is there a “proper” or “authentic” Harissa recipe or is it basically a generic name for a spicy condiment?

Elie

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I've made version from recipes by Claudia Roden, Clifford Wright, and Paula Wolfert, all of which are different. I'm sure every worthwhile cookbook that includes a recipe puts a spin on it. (Anyone know of others?) I believe one of them, I can't remember whom, gives an idea of the ranges - some include this, some include that, etc. Now I just wing it depending upon what dried peppers I have on hand, how hot I want it, how thick I want it, what uses I plan to put it to, etc. It's easy to make two or three different types in one "batch" ... once you've rehydrated and seeded the peppers you've got the majority of the work done and it's just a matter of cleaning the bowl of your food processor a couple of times and packing them in different jars. I don't think I ever make it "exactly" the same any more ... which is part of the fun - seeing if you can discover your own secret ingredient or combination thereof. I've tried several store bought varieties from a range of places - Sur la Table to dingy ethnic markets. The good news is that every batch I've made at home has been far superior to all of them.

The "ras al hanout" discussion below is informative as an analogy ... every family makes their own, every shop makes their own. This is typical of highly diverse markets, be they industrial or pre-industrial. The fact that it is ubiquitous in the cuisine doesn't mean it's standardized. I finally realized that I shouldn't worry about whether it's "authentic" or not ... though I still have to fight back the question on occasion. The only way to really resolve it is to take a long trip and do a lot of eating ... not an entirely undesirable resolution.

Adieu,

Rien

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Oh, and one more idea: if you make a pretty basic variety you can always blend in freshly toasted and ground spices to taste as needed. An excellent option.

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What is the proper way to make Harissa, the north African spice blend/relish? I made one recently to go with my bulghur pilaf following Caludia Roden’s recipe, because it was easy and I had all the ingredients. She uses coriander seeds, dried chilies and caraway as a base. However Paula Wolfert uses onions, sundried tomatoes and no caraway in her “Slow Mediterranean Kitchen” recipes. How do you make yours? Is there a “proper” or “authentic” Harissa recipe or is it basically a generic name for a spicy condiment?

Elie

Harissa is basically reconstituted dried red peppers (the tiny, super hot kind), fresh garlic, olive oil and a combination of several typically North African spices (cumin, coriander, fennel seeds and caraway seeds are the most common). Puree all in a food processor or blender.

The addition of onions and sundried tomatoes is not traditional at all. Don't get me wrong, it might taste fine, but it's not authentic.

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The addition of onions and sundried tomatoes is not traditional at all. Don't get me wrong, it might taste fine, but it's not authentic.

You are absolutely right harissa is not made with onions.

Harissa which has its home in Tunisia is made three ways: steamed fresh peppers drained, crushed with spices, garlic and oil and used fresh; dried red peppers pounded and mixed with spices and olive oil; and dried red peppers pounded with a small amount of sun-dried tomatoes, seasoned with spices, and thinned with oil.

The most popular come from the town of Nabeul and look like New Mexican peppers.

The King of red hot peppersauces is in southern Tunisia iand s called harous. Making harous takes time but it is much more delicious. Onions are fermented for up to 3 months in salt and turmeric then drained and combined with spices far more complicated then in the north, and dried hot peppers from Gabes are used instead of the ones from Nabeul. They are large as well but fatter.

The best of the best is when a harissa sauce made with dried red pepper and sun dried tomato is blended half and half with the harous sauce as they do on the island of Djerba.

How do I know all this? I was incredibly lucky back in the 80's and was hired to represent the Tunisian olive oil ministry in Asia and Australia when they needed someone to lecture in English on Tunisian cooking. In order to do this, the ministry sent me all over Tunisia, year in and year out, until I got all the information down pat.

Delighted to share it with you. Soon I'll post pictures of the two peppers.


Edited by Wolfert (log)

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Ms Wolfert-

I stand corrected on the sundried tomatoes. I should have prefaced my recipe by saying

"this is a very common version of Harissa"

By the way, what do you include in your Tabil spice blend? Tabil is also the name of another hot pepper paste that includes roasted peppers. I sometimes add roasted red peppers to my Harissa.

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1 tablespoon ground coriander seed to 1 teaspoon ground caraway, and hot red pepper to taste.To this blend, I add a bit of crushed garlic and a pinch of ras el hanout or curry powder is if I'm going to use it right away. Or, if I make it in large quantity I have to switch to garlic powder which is the pits.

Since ground coriander seed loses its oomph so fast I often purchase tabil ready made from the Liverpool based www.seasonedpioneers.com. They have a very good formula or maybe it is just their spices are fresher and they have some secret way to make garlic powder less oppressive. I highly recommend it to the home cook. Chefs might balk at the price for such a small amount but it works for me.

I agree that hairssa with roasted red peppers is excellent as well.


Edited by Wolfert (log)

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The two major peppers that are used in Tunisia to make harissa. The one on the left is from the town Nabeul and the other is from the town of Gabes. on the Scoville scale the Nabeul is about 4 and the other is 5.

gallery_8703_604_1105740186.jpg


Edited by Wolfert (log)

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I tried adapting for several "Moroccan Restaurants" that opened in the States several years ago a "Harissa" recipe that they were interested in utilizing similar to the most popular type of Harissa generally available in America markets.

"Harissa le cabanon" made in France by Le Cabanon SA in Camerat France.

Contents are: Pimentos [Red Peppers], Vegetables, Garlic, Salt, Coriander, Caraway Seed, Vegetable Oil, Modified Corn Flour, Citric Acid to modify acid as a regulator.

This Harissa is pretty mild to my taste, but very popular. I'm sure that the Vegetables are Tomato Paste, Onions and fine ground dried Lentils.

This we were able to surmise after testing and breaking down the actual product.

Wolfret's Harissa is much more delicious , authentic and better tasting but the criteria of my customers at that time was to put together a "Harissa" as close as possible to the "le cabanon" brand as they thought this is what their customers were familiar with, basically they wanted to be able to make a Harissa themselves at a more reasonable price then buying the imported Harissa.

Our results exceeded their criteria and it's still being used at many of the Restaurants still operating in major metropolitan areas in the States.

Our recipe follows:

INGREDIENTS:

Pimentos [Canned]

Ground Cayenne Pepper

Whole Black Pepper Seeds

Whole Coriander

Whole Caraway Seeds

Tomato Paste

Dried Garlic

Dried Chopped Onions

Aji No Moto [MSG]

Vegetable Oil

Olive Oil

Leaf Parsley

PREPARATION:

First put Vegetable Oil into a Cast Iron or Heavy Weight Pre-Heated Pan.

Add your Coriander, Black Pepper and Caraway Seeds and allow to only begin to Brown, then add Ground Cayenne Pepper keep Stirring until Oil turns Red. Immediately remove from heat and let stand until cool adding some Aji No Moto stirring until dissolved.

Next Heat up Vegetable Oil in Heavy Pan then add Dried Garlic and Onions when they start to brown immediately stir in Pimentos, Leaf Parsley and Tomato Paste keep stirring about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes remove from Heat and let stand until cool after adding Aji No Moto until dissolved.

After both Pans are cooled to Room Temperature Drain and reserve the Oil from the Pan containing the Spices and Seeds. Next Grind the drained ingredients in a Spice Mill, Blender or Food Processor until fine and reserve.

Next Drain and reserve the Oil from the 2nd Pan. Place the Ingredients into a Food processor, Pulsing until the are ground together but not into as fine a mixture as the Spices.

In a large Stainless Steel container Mix the 2 ingredients according to your personal taste together, adding the Hot Red Oil or the Vegetable Oil until it tastes the way you enjoy it best that way when you make this the next time you will be able to easily adjust the amount of each ingredient.

We use "MSG" in place of salt as a preservative as well as to enhance the taste in a natural manner if you prefer you can use salt but always consider that this type of condiment is expected to keep well without being refrigerated, the pimentos provide sweetness and body without adding any sugar. The Dried Onions and Garlic are more consistent plus their flavors are enhanced by the Hot Oil and MSG.

If anyone has any questions please PM me or post and I'll respond. I couldn't give the exact amount of each ingredient as my former customers gave me permission to provide the recipe and ingredients in only a general manner, but it's easy to adjust by simply buying a tube of the original and tasting until you've put together a "Harissa' you like.

It's actually not difficult and it's something that add's well to liven up many dishes.

Irwin :blink:

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That is so fascinating. Is the final product a very thick paste?

I'm so glad you provided the list. For those who are wondering about the lentils, perhaps I can shed some light. The use of barley kernels, lentils, dried favas or chickpeas as a thickener for soups, sauces and drinks is unique to North Africa, I think. The grain or pulse is crushed, then toasted in a dry skillet, and finally milled with spices.

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That is so fascinating. Is the final product a very thick paste?

I'm so glad you provided the list. For those who are wondering about the lentils, perhaps I can shed some light. The use of barley kernels, lentils, dried favas or chickpeas as a thickener for soups, sauces and drinks is unique to North Africa, I think. The grain or pulse is crushed,  then toasted in a dry skillet, and finally milled with spices.

Wolfert:

The "Lentil"s or any "Dried Beans" certainly enhance and stabilize the flavors especially after Toasting as is done with the Spices.

The reason that we decided not to include the Beans or any Starch in the Restaurant Style "Harissa" was that they tended to Ferment the Sauce if left to long at room temperature.

At home where i keep the "Harissa" under Refrigeration I use the Beans as well as Fresh Garlic and Onions Crisped by Deep Frying in Oil then adding to the "Harissa" mixture.

In preparing the recipe we were able to keep the consistency similar to the sauce that is generally sold in Metal Tubes. Another item that I personally prefer to use in place of the Cayenne Pepper is Available at most Asian Grocers at a reasonable price. [About $2.99 lb] This is "Korean Style" Course Ground Red Pepper used in preparing "Kim Chee". The Brand I now have it home is: "Wang" but almost all are similar in price and quality. I use this in making many kinds of Barbecue and Hot Sauces as it's consistent in quality.

Irwin :rolleyes:


Edited by wesza (log)

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Thanks so much for explaining all this.

It is a shame that ChefZadi has to pretend to teach Moroccan food for sur la table, when he is really an Algerian chef with, most probably, fabulous and robust recipes to share. Dishes from Algeria are not that known in the States as "Algerian.".

Most Americans taste their first couscous in Paris where Algerian couscous is King. It is fiery, merguez laden and wonderful. Our love of fiery food on a soothing bed of couscous seduces.

This jives with the problem Wesca's solved so brilliantly: to teach Moroccan restaurants how to make harissa. Just to clear up why this needed to be done: most couscous in Morocco is delicate with sweet onion marmalade toppings, sweet spices, and many dried or fresh fruits. I offer 29 recipes for couscous in my book and only one asks for a red pepper sauce and it is also the only recipe from a Moroccan cook working in the States.

Even the so called leaders of gastronomy want their Moroccan couscous fiery. Quite awhile back, the late Craig Claiborne asked me to come to his home and prepare couscous. So I prepared the pumpkin couscous which is a recipe from the palace of the late Mohammed V, the grandfather of the present King, and one of my early favorites-- delicate, delicious, and special. I thought he would enjoy it. As we were tasting everything just before the guests arrived, he developed true panic.

"where is the pepper sauce? I can't imagine couscous without a pepper sauce."

Would you believe it? I made one using some red pepper and oil and served it on the side.

. .


Edited by Wolfert (log)

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My heart did sink a little when the class title was changed. But I got over it pretty quickly. And I can explain the differences in class. The change was more for advertising purposes. I'm also scheduled to teach classes on French cooking, including a Bastille Day menu. So one day I'm the North African Chef, the next day I will be the French Chef.

Actually my professional cooking experience is with French cuisine and I graduated from a culinary school in Paris. I also teach at Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles. I was born in Lyon, France to Algerian parents. I have of course visited Algeria. And I am very familiar with the cuisine.

Anyway, Algerians like harissa as well. It's not so automatically as the Tunisians. When I invite my Algerian and French friends over for couscous, they expect harissa to be on the table. But to put harissa on a delicately flavored pumpkin couscous? To each his own, but it makes me hurt just to think about it? Sort of like Tabasco sauce on Sea Bass with a Beurre Blanc sauce. You know we can all be so refined when it comes to one type of cuisine than act like apes when it comes to another.

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FYI I just posted in the album section some photos of cooking pots from North Africa.

One photo that you all might be interested in is this stone-like mortar used on the Island of Djerba to make harissa in one minute.

The cook grinds the rehydrated peppers with a local stone and then adds spices, garlic, sun dried sweet peppers or tomatoes, and olive oil.

Here

gallery_8703_615_1105809472.jpg


Edited by Wolfert (log)

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Thanks so much for explaining all this.

It is a shame that ChefZadi has to pretend to teach Moroccan food for sur la table, when he is really an Algerian chef with, most probably, fabulous and robust recipes to share. Dishes from Algeria are not that known in the States as "Algerian.".

Most Americans taste their first couscous in Paris where Algerian couscous is King. It is fiery, merguez laden and wonderful. Our love of fiery food on a soothing bed of couscous seduces.

This  jives  with the problem Wesza's solved so brilliantly: to  teach Moroccan restaurants how to make harissa. Just to clear up why this needed to be done: most couscous in Morocco is delicate with sweet onion marmalade toppings, sweet spices, and many dried or fresh fruits. I offer 29 recipes for couscous in my book and only one asks for a red pepper sauce and it is also the only recipe from a Moroccan cook working in the States.

Even the so called leaders of gastronomy want their Moroccan couscous  fiery. Quite awhile back, the late Craig Claiborne asked me to come to his home and prepare couscous. So I prepared the pumpkin couscous which is a recipe from the palace of the late Mohammed V, the grandfather of the present King, and one of my early favorites-- delicate, delicious, and special. I thought he would enjoy it. As we were tasting everything just before the guests arrived, he developed true panic.

"where is the pepper sauce? I can't imagine couscous without a pepper sauce." 

Would you believe it? I made one using some red pepper and oil and served it on the side.

. .

Paula:

I was always bewildered by the conservative approach and lack of imagination attributed to "Customers Expectations" in the majority of Middle Eastern Restaurants that I was involved with thru the years.

Especially the "Moroccan" types of operations it seemed that they preferred serving dishes that did not take into consideration a Cuisine that has more sublimities, nuances and excellent combinations of Citrus, Spices, Olives and Seeds married together but ignored by Restaurateurs. Hopefully this is now slowly coming to evolve to something better. The influence of France, Spain and Africa is transcended into the foods of "Morocco" in a most agreeable manner.

I actually sent copies of your "Couscous Cook Book" during the 1970's & 1980's [then in paperback] to all the Middle Eastern operators we had relationships with asking then "WHY" not serve some of these wonderful dishes to almost no avail.

It seemed like "Belly Dancing & Booze" were considered the profit centers and Food was secondary, but that seems to finally be changing.

Your mention of "Craig Claiborne" brings to mind his always relating to his ability to do his best to provide his readers and guests a combination of what he felt they anticipated making every occasion a comforting learning experience. He was like that in public and at his 57th Street Residence, only more relaxed in the Hampton's. On his initial visit to Hong Kong he was overwhelmed with the variety and the crowds everywhere, but when we took him to a "Pigeon" Restaurant in Shatin he wrote about it, comparing the Pigeon" with some he enjoyed in Morocco.

I have enjoyed reading about the "Real Harissa" and the "Couscous" on the other thread and hope that this will encourage putting these items into more menus. egullet is always a "Learning Experience" at your fingertips.

Irwin


Edited by wesza (log)

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This thread gets really interesting.

Thanks for your comments Wesza, and for purchasing so many copies of my couscous book. I hesitate to brag, but how can I resist now---the book published in 1973 is still in print .

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I was looking for harissa recipes on recipezaar.com and was surprised to find only 25 dishes that included this paste -- many of them ones I'd posted!

I asked for more ideas in one of their forums and someone replied with the answer that the reason there were likely so few recipes was that sambal paste was essentially the same thing.

I have never made sambal paste, but from a quick glance it seems this has more ginger/lemongrass flavours (ie. Thai) while harissa tends to favour garlic and cumin.

Are these two things really one and the same or is there a significant difference in their taste and use?

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There is a harissa thread in this forum, you will find some recipes there along with "a back story".

Harissa and Sambal Olek are not the same.

Harissa is very thick and pasty compared to Sambal Olek. As I understand it Sambal Olek is of Southeast Asian origin. The Sambal Olek we have in our fridge is made from just chilies and soupy in consistency, no spices or garlic. There is a sambal olek type of sauce that I've seen called chili garlic sauce, no reference to sambal olek, so I'm guessing that once garlic is added to the chilis it's called something else. I've seen Chinese version of the chili garlic sauce as well.

They taste is very different to me. Harissa has a more complex flavor and if you add roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes it mellows out the heat at least on the palate anyway. I've found that it can taste deceptively mild compared to some of the pure chili sauces found in Asia or Mexico, but if your fooled into overindulgence... you'll know what I mean the next day. :rolleyes:

http://www.huyfong.com/no_frames/product.htm

Here's the brand that I buy I think that we've had the same jar for two years. :biggrin:

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I agree that true harissa from Tunisia and sambal oelek are totallly different as 'Touragand decribed above..

On the other hand, if you visit any Moroccan market where olives are sold you will see the a red pepper sauce drooling down from the top of a pyramid of black crinkly olives. This red drool is a dead ringer for sambal oelek and it even tastes like it. The texture, too, is the same with lots of seeds..

Hot red pepper sauces were never part of old refined Moroccan cooking.

The use of hot pepper on couscous came with the tourists in the 70's. They asked for it in restaurants when the sweet and salty couscous would arrive at table. Since they had had their first couscous in Paris and loved it with the mix of hot and sweet, they were disappointed . Restauranteurs were only to happy to oblige.

By the way, in traditional Moroccan cooking, the combination of hot and sweet is not as strong as is thought. In Morocco, the blend of salty and sweet is more revered..


Edited by Wolfert (log)

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How long will prepared harissa last in the fridge?

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I have kept my homemade harissa and the Southern Tunisian version, harous, in glass jars n the refrigerator for up to a year. I always keep the paste covered in olive oil.

From time to time, I top it off with more oil in the following way in order toavoid ending up with more oil than harissa. I place the jar in a saucepan of simmering water (or you could do this in a microwave for an instant) in order to get all the contents to condense at the bottom of the jar.

Let the jars and paste cool down, cover with fresh oil and a lid, and return to the refrigerator.

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Will harissa lose it's potency after sitting for a while?

homemade and tubed?

I have a tube of it that I opened a couple months ago and it had a really good kick back then, but when we used it last night you could barely taste it....

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Will harissa lose it's potency after sitting for a while?

homemade and tubed?

I have a tube of it that I opened a couple months ago and it had a really good kick back then, but when we used it last night you could barely taste it....

Try making your own and keep it covered with olive oil in a jar. Mine is about a year old and perfectly fine and pungent. There are many many recipes for harisa and it's simple to make. Here's mine, http://www.cliffordawright.com/recipes/harisa.html, but frankly there are many good recipes. I never buy tubes of harisa so I can't comment. One thing for sure, your homemade version will taste a hell of a lot better than the Tunisian or French commerically made varieties.

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I've resurrected this post while embarking on a harissa making voyage of discovery for a small article I'm writing.

I'm terribly excited about making my own. The posts here are very informative and I have collected four different recipes to begin,- including the Clifford Wright one - plus I've purchased two commercially produced pastes to compare flavour profiles. Both so different from each other - one, very caraway forward, the other, chile all the way.

Armed only with a blender and a volcanic stone mortar and pestle (of Mexican origin), I intend to

explore both tools for making a smooth paste.

I am curious about the harissa's made in Algeria and Libya - I've heard the Libyians prefer much more heat to the Tunisian version. Can anyone back this up or direct me to another egullet thread I might have missed?

Also, if there are so many versions of harissa using many different combinations of ingredients, when is a harissa not a harissa?

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The two major peppers that are used in Tunisia to make harissa. The one on the left is from the town Nabeul and the other is from the town of Gabes. on the Scoville scale the Nabeul is about 4 and the other is  5.

How fascinating, that peppers originally came from the old world (relatively) not all that long ago, and have diversified into so many local varieties, with enough of a range of flavors and characters that without the right one, so many local dishes are just 'not right.' I don't know what I'd do if I lived somewhere where I couldn't get my hands on Maras pepper and isot.....

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