Cooking with Harissa: The Tunisian Hot Chili Sauce

Harissa is a fiery-hot chili sauce that first originated in Tunisia, and has since gained popularity as an accompaniment or ingredient in many foods of various cultures, such as Moroccan and African cuisines. It is also widely used in France on chicken and in soups.

Comprised mainly of chile peppers, additional herbs and spices can vary according to recipes and brands available for purchase, but typically include coriander, cumin, garlic and olive oil, and occasionally tomatoes are added to the mixture. The complex flavors seem perfectly suited for all manner of cuisines, assuming your taste buds are up to the task of handling the powerfully hot blend.

Making your own blend of Harissa is a fairly simply process. You will need about 3 ounces of chillies. You can use one particular chile if you desire, but a combination of ancho, New Mexican, and guajillo chillies will produce the most flavorful (and hot) results. You can probably find the chillies sold in dried form in a supermarket.

Begin by stemming and seeding the chillies. Then place them in a bowl and cover with boiling water for about 20 minutes to a half-hour. Proceed to drain the water and press out any excess moisture from the chillies.

Then, grind the chillies in a food processor or blender with 1 clove of garlic (add more if you like garlic), and a teaspoon each of ground coriander, sea salt, and cumin. Gradually add a small amount of olive oil to the mixture until a thick paste forms.

Spoon the harissa paste into a jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Seal the jar and refrigerate. The harissa paste will keep fresh for about a year as long as it is kept covered by a thin layer of olive oil after each use. The simple recipe produces a delicious blend of authentic hot sauce,

Of course, you can easily purchase harissa in either a tube or a can, either in your supermarket or Middle Eastern ethnic groceries. Sold either as a paste or as an easy to use sauce, harissa is ideal for pasta or soups, as well as a creative substitute for other condiments on sandwiches or used as a marinade for meats.

A highly important element of Tunisian culture, Harissa is normally mixed with a broth and poured over couscous, but is also used in everything from salads to meats.

Harissa is fairly low in calories and fat, and possesses a fair amount of vitamin A and C, and rather small amounts of other vitamins and minerals, making it a good choice as a condiment or accompaniment to foods for those who are health conscious and can handle a good fiery kick to their taste buds.

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