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Chiles or chile peppers are native to South America - however once they made it to the Old World they spread like wildfire (or like the plague, as one food writer complained, in the early 20th century).

Read the story here.

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Just reading back in this thread is enough to convince anyone that harissa can vary considerably from country to country, town to town and even from kitchen to kitchen in small villages.

In the late '70s a young woman from Morocco stayed with me for a few weeks while attending a workshop for artists at the "Women's Village" in the San Fernando Valley.

I had long been interested in various ethnic foods but having someone stay in my house and show me how certain things were prepared was a terrific lesson which I have treasured ever since.

She told me that while her mother was the primary cook in the family, her uncle was the one who prepared the spice mixtures and the one who visited the markets to find just the perfect ingredients. She and her brothers had tagged along when they were young and would hang around when their uncle would stop for coffee or tea with his friends. She had many funny stories about the arguments about the various ingredients that constituted the "perfect" harissa or other spice mixtures.

Earlier in this thread sambals were mentioned and I am sure similar "discussions" go on in Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries where these are the favorite spice mixtures/pastes.

Similar arguments abound in Mexico where molés are prepared and the contests at the festivals in San Pedro Actopan or Oaxaca in October each year or in Vera Cruz, in Puebla.

And if you think this may be outside this topic, consider that in the 17th century, the first recorded use of a spice mixture incorporating the native chiles/herbs and chocolate of Mexico with spices and herbs of the Old World, was a state banquet prepared by Spanish nuns from the convent of Santa Rosa, using recipes of Spanish and Moorish origin.

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*bump*

Well, well. I just opened my first jar of harissa, and used some of it. Well, well, well!!

I confess, it didn't taste wonderful with the bean dish I'd made, but it was good. It was very good. It was surprising, too: I hadn't expected it to contain preserved lemons, but it tasted like it did. "Hm," I mused, "I'd better re-read that label." I did. No preserved lemons noted in it. Nonetheless it has that sweet lemony salty kick that you get from preserved lemons, along with a good hard hot pepper kick. Nice stuff. It must use some really interesting peppers.

Now, what else shall I do with it? What do YOU do with harissa? I'm in love. :wub:

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i have not read this entire thread so it might have already been said. i have made a lot of different harissa recipes and tried plenty abroad. the best i have had so far is from the moro cookbook. i think it is fantastic, make sure you don't get lazy and hunt down some black cumin.

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today I made harissa using my Tunisian neighbor's recipe.

dried hot and sweet chili (long thin ones)

a few tiny dried chili peppers

fresh garlic

salt

olive oil (she used vegetable oil)

She doesn't add cumin, coriander or caraway seeds although these are common additions.

I split, seeded and removed the tops of all the chilies then soaked them for about 1 hour in water. Meanwhile I peeled the garlic cloves (about 4 heads fresh garlic to 400 grams dried chilies). Using a food processor I ground everything into a paste-like consistancy and added salt and about 1/2 cup of olive oil.

I soaked the peppers for too long and they lost some of their pigment but besides that it turned out well and hot! Hotter than I expected since I removed all the seeds. Now I have enough harissa for 20 years. Last time I made this I added a few dried tomatoes.

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How about Harissa chocolate bars? :raz:

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I have learned a lot from this thread and make a pretty good Harissa know but I was wondering about the version from moulin mahjoub. It is really nice and I would love to make something similar. Any Ideas on how to go about it?

Arturo

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On 3/20/2016 at 3:07 PM, Chris Hennes said:

I just made the harissa recipe over on Saveur, and while the taste is great, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of spiciness. As a general rule, how spicy is this stuff supposed to be?

 

The answer is as spicy as you want it to be! Harissa is a catch all label applied to a wide family of spices that serve very difference purposes. To me though, it's meant to be more of a warming spice than a blow your head off one. To me, the perfect harissa dishes aren't too spicy when you first bite in but warms up gradually over time into a pleasant glow but never enough to stop you from continuing eating.


As with all dishes involving chillis, feel free to modify the quantity and types of chillis to reach the level of spice you prefer.


Edited by Shalmanese (log)
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For many years I made sure I was never without a tube of Le Cabanon harissa paste. It's French, with a very distinctive logo and package design, and for many years was ubiquitous and the only tube style harissa available. I was addicted. I read that the great photographer Cartier-Bresson used to carry that very same tube around with him wherever he went. It's gone the way of the dodo and that breaks my heart. Now you can easily get a tube of harissa called DEA, which is not the same. It has no distinct flavor and is hotter than hell. I threw it out. And I have thrown out several other cans or jars either upon opening or after they languished in the fridge for a couple of years without being used.

 

I haven't found one that has comparable flavor to Le Cabanon. It was something special; hot, but not so hot that it obscured its own flavor.  Someone gave me some harissa powder but I haven't figured out what to do with it. Do I make a paste? The paste is so versatile; you can use it to further spice up a soup to taste, bowl by bowl. Perhaps this thread will nudge me to try making my own. I still have an original box because it is so lovely and simple. And because, of course, it's all that's left. 

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@Chris Hennes As said above, harissa has no real set recipe, both in terms of heat and in added flavoring. For example, Iv'e never seen harissa with mint before. The caraway and corrinader in this recipe are more toward the Libyan version, as the Morrocan one that I'm more used to contains only cumin. In Morrocan cooking harissa is relatvly mild, hotter then Libya's pilpel-chuma but milder then Yaman's zhug. The morrocan makes an hotter version of harissa called zchaka. All this being said, remember that the level of heat in chillies varies and do adjust it for your taste and the dish you use it in.

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I've been using the recipe from this old LA Times article,  Harissa, mon amour,  using equal parts ancho, guajillo and chipotles with a few del arbol chiles to adjust heat, as the article suggests.  I have no point of reference with respect to how it's "supposed" to taste.  I remember reading dozens of versions and settling on this one because I thought it sounded as though the author really loved the stuff!   My version tastes rather hot on its own but gives mostly a warm, earthy flavor when I use it to cook with (which I should do more often :smile:, thank you very much for the reminder!) 

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I made this Harrisa paste.

We have grown an abundance of Birdseye chillis, and use about 225 g in this recipe along with 12 cloves of garlic. The chillis get blanched in boiling water, drained, then into a small food processor. 

I add a tablespoon each of; dried mint, ground coriander, ground cumin, olive oil and a  teaspoon of ground caraway seeds and salt. Blitz, scraping down the sides, add more olive oil, blitz again. 

Pour into sterilised jars, keep in the fridge, use within six months.

If you lick the spatula (like someone did) be prepared for a temporary speech impediment. 

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