Harissa Explains It All…

Have you ever bought some special ingredient and then come to find you have no idea what to do with it? Or maybe you saw it in a few recipes and then can’t put your hands on them again… ? This happens to me all the time.  Case in point – there’s a half-rotten eggplant (aubergine) in my fridge at the moment that I just know I had a good recipe for, but I can’t find it. Earlier this summer I let a few lovely French artichokes and even a bag of organic curly kale die piteous deaths because I never got around to figuring out how to cook them.

I know – don’t tell me – eggplant, artichokes and kale are hardly exotic. But for me, they’re unusual to my normal diet and I’m quite embarrassed that they’ve gone to waste.

Harissa Paste

Another, perhaps more unique, ingredient I’ve brought home is Harissa. And not only have I gotten a tube for myself, stumbling across it at Fallon & Byrne, but I’ve also given it as gifts to my sisters and foodie friends, who are equally puzzled as to how it’s best put to use.

It’s not really that hard. It’s just different. Why do I grapple with it so?

While you’re thinking about that, let me tell you what Harissa is, in case you were ignorant like I was. It’s a spicy, brazenly red paste that is made from chillies, cumin, caraway, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and smoked paprika.  It’s traditionally North African, and originated in Tunisia (which is where mine is from!), but it’s being used much more widely now, and not just for things like tangines, but is even stirred into pasta sauces and mayonnaise to add a bit of kick! Yum! Supposedly it’s quite easy to make yourself, but it is not expensive and I’ve only ever bought it in cans and tubes, much like you’d find tomato paste/puree. There are many different varities and degrees of hotness in Harissas, but they all have the basic ingredients in common, while the rest is left to your own taste. I have even heard of one kind, Belazu, that uses rose petals in the mix!

The first recipe in which I used Harissa was a yogurt-covered chicken bake, which honestly was nothing amazing. So back into the cupboard it went, until I felt inspired again when I saw a great recipe for putting it over grilled corn on the cob. And wow! So good! And thus, my Harissa-using spark was reignited.

Harissa Lamb Burger

I’ve since put my nose to the grindstone and have found a few great recipes for this brilliant ingredient, and I’m sharing them below. Hopefully next time you run across a tube of Harissa, you can buy it and bring it home and know for sure where to find a few tried-and-true uses.

As a sidenote to all this, let me say once again how cool it is that I’m cooking with new and different flavours here in Ireland. We’re not all meat and spuds, folks! Perhaps it’s my obsessive cooking-show-watching, but I try out a lot of  French, Morroccan, Indian, Greek and Thai  foods and influences, much more than I ever would have attempted a few years ago. And my belly is happy. 🙂

1. Cilantro-Harissa Grilled Corn on the Cob (Como Water)

These are super easy and a nice, spicy change from regular ol’ corn on the cob. I can’t ever find corn still in the husk here, so I just smeared the butter/harissa/cilantro mix over the cobs and wrapped them in foil before dropping them on the hot grill. Still moist and lovely.

2. Moroccan-Style Fish Cakes (BBC Good Food – Hairy Bikers)

This recipe is one I tweaked a bit – firstly, I didn’t serve it with the cous cous or the sauce, I just made the fish cake recipe and had some sauteed potatoes and a green salad. Even though the recipe says it serves one, we found it was plenty for two with our side dishes. I also used fresh Hake instead of the Cod, as we’re being encouraged to eat fish other than Cod these days so that the stocks can replenish… fine by me, I like Hake just as well and it’s often cheaper anyway. We really enjoyed this recipe, and I like how the cakes are made pretty much from all fish, no “filler” like bread crumbs or mashed potato. Highly recommend it – so far this is my favourite way to use Harissa. 🙂

3. Harissa Spiced Lamb Burgers with Sweet Potato Wedges (Olive Magazine)

This recipe was nice because, like the fish cakes, it was simple and didn’t need a lot of fillers. Lamb is quite rich and fatty on its own (that’s why it’s great if you can find lean ground lamb), so there was no need to add oil to the pan or throw anything more on the plate besides the sweet potato wedges. The yogurt cut through that richness nicely as well as cooling the spice. Actually, next time I make this I think I’ll up the amount of Harissa because it wasn’t very spicy and I like a bit more of a kick to my food!  Nice mid-week supper, overall.

4. Harissa Spaghettini (including my friend The Kale!) (101 Cookbooks)

This may be one I have to try on my own… Frank isn’t crazy about whole-wheat pasta, which I enjoy, plus the greens… maybe it’ll make me a nice solo dinner when he’s making his film next month. I bet some grilled shrimp might be a nice addition to this as well if you don’t want the veggie version.

5. Harissa Chicken and Butternut Squash (Belazu – Sainsbury’s Magazine)

I want to give this one a go and maybe tweak it a bit… it sounds like too many soft textures for me as it is, though I’m sure the flavours are great. What crispy or crunchy dimesion could be added? If you get there before me, let me know what you think.

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2 thoughts on “Harissa Explains It All…

  1. Mmm! I’m thinking the Cilantro-Harissa Grilled Corn on the cob is something we’ll need to try before the end of Indiana summer. Also, Harissa Explains it All…. ha! You make me giggle.

  2. I know what you mean about having ingredients and no way to use them. I do it to myself. On a brighter note, roasted Kale is our favorite way ever to eat Kale. Just toss it in Olive Oil and sea salt and roast it on a baking pan or stone till it gets all crispy. Just like potato chips 🙂

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