Tuesday, January 09, 2007


My local shops sell a Tunisian brand of harissa called Le Phare du Cap Bon. It is good, and has a kick -- though less of one, I was interested to discover, in France, to which the Tunisians appear to export a milder version. But it lacks the zing of a home-made sauce.

The small dried chillis that are widely available are not ideal for the job. They are viciously hot; even I, a lover of hot things, find that they blowtorch flavour out of the food. The sauce should be fiery, but with a heady spiciness.

I got a tube of Bart aji amarillo chillis in my Christmas stocking. They are very hot too: next time I use them, I shall remove the membrane and seeds. But they make a more flavoursome harissa.

1 Bart aji amarillo chilli
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 clove garlic
Olive oil

Pour boiling water over the chilli, and leave to soak for half an hour or longer. (It has to be soft before it can be worked into a paste.) Meanwhile, put the caraway and cumin into a dry saucepan, and cook over a gentle heat until toasted.

Cut the chilli into pieces, and put it into an electric herb mill or coffee grinder -- if you don't have either, you'll need a pestle and mortar -- with the caraway, cumin, garlic (which you might want to chop a bit first), and a drop or two of olive oil. Whizz. You'll probably need to scrape the sides of the mill, and whizz again. Add a little salt. Keep adding drops of oil until the mixture starts to form a smooth paste.

Most harissa recipes include caraway. Some include coriander instead of, or in addition to, the cumin.

Store the harissa, with a layer of oil covering it, in a small jar in the fridge.

No comments: