Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.
Today, Brandon Matzek of Kitchen Konfidence shares his recipe for harissa, a sweet-spicy condiment that adds excitement to any meal.
A few years after I moved to San Diego, a friend of mine introduced me to Café Chloe, a charming French restaurant in the heart of the East Village. Nestled amongst other diners on the patio, we started our meal with an order of pommes frites. Matchstick-cut frites and wisps of frizzled leek spilled out from a cone of parchment, served with a trio of bold dipping sauces. The first was a peppery watercress aioli with just a hint of spice. The second was a golden-hued sauce flavored with garlic and sultry saffron. The last was a glossy ketchup spiked with something completely new to me: harissa.
After just one taste of this sweet-spicy condiment, I was compelled to research and explore. In its most basic form, harissa, a North African chile sauce, is made with dried chiles, garlic, olive oil and spices. In this version, I’ve brightened the flavors by adding lemon juice, zest and red wine vinegar to brighten flavors, and included tomato paste for body. I also opt for dried chiles that fall into the “sweet and complex” category, rather than smoky or spicy: a blend of ancho, mulato and guajillo chiles provides a fruity base with intriguing depth of flavor. Thick yet smooth, this harissa pairs well with a variety of proteins (lamb, beef, chicken, fish) and starches (pasta, farro, rice, potatoes).
Adapted from the New York Times
Makes 1 cup
5 medium dried red chile peppers, stems removed*
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/3 cup tomato paste
* I use a mixture of 1 ancho chile, 1 mulato chile and 3 guajillo chiles, and my harissa turns out complex and flavorful -- not spicy. Dried chipotle peppers will give your harissa a smokier flavor, while chile de árbol will add heat.
Soak the chile peppers in vinegar for 30 to 45 minutes, until soft. Combine chiles, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and olive in a food processor and process until smooth.
Lightly toast the coriander and fennel seeds in a frying pan, and then grind them using a mortar and pestle. Add these ground spices to the food processor along with the pepper, allspice, nutmeg, salt, and tomato paste. Process until smooth, drizzling in extra olive oil if the mixture seems too thick. Season to taste with additional kosher salt.
Aside from mixing this Harissa with ketchup to complement a batch of French fries, I love using it in a quick weeknight pasta dish. Here's my go-to recipe: using a mortar and pestle (or small food processor), pulverize 3 cloves of garlic with a large pinch of salt. Mix in 3 spoonfuls of Harissa and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, then set aside. Drop a half pound of pasta (I like penne) in salted boiling water. While the pasta cooks, toast a large handful of pine nuts, zest a lemon, tear several stalks of kale leaves into bite-sizes pieces, and chop up a number of pitted green olives. Just before the pasta reaches al dente, add the kale, cook briefly, then drain both pasta and kale. In the same pot, add half of the Harissa mixture and a pinch of red pepper flake. Warm for a few moments over medium heat. Add the pasta, kale, nuts, zest, and olives, tossing to combine. Once everything is warmed through, transfer to a serving platter and drizzle over the remaining Harissa oil.