Is there anything more fun than conjuring something delicious from nothing but your imagination and leftovers? Don’t answer that, but instead consider the primal satisfaction that comes from being both resourceful and frugal. I may have read a few too many Laura Ingalls Wilder stories as a young girl, but preparing meals from a perfect recipe with perfect ingredients is neither as fun nor as tasty as making things up as I go from whatever I have on hand. Urban pioneering. Or something.
Anyhow, that’s all a long explanation for how I arrived at making this harissa, the of-the-moment condiment that is making its way into every meal at our house. Not only was the harissa itself arrived at in my attempt to not waste lovely ingredients leftover from other recipes, but in turn I’m using the harissa to make up an endless number of flavorful dishes on the fly.
I’m calling this harissa although it’s really a deliciously ubiquitous chile-tomato paste, relevant to put a Middle Eastern spin on a dish, but also at home in Tex-Mex and Asian dishes. The depth of flavor comes from toasting the chiles and spices as well as roasting the tomatoes. I lean on the grocery-store versions of harissa and chile pastes as much as the next person, but you really can’t beat the intensity and freshness of flavor achieved by making harissa yourself. Harissa typically doesn’t include tomatoes, but I do love how the tomatoes temper the paste’s heat, and add a level of acidity, that I think widens harissa’s horizons. Scrape the finished, cooled paste into a jar and enjoy for several weeks, in any way you can think of.
A few ideas to get you started:
- Spoon over leftover steak, pork, chicken, tofu, or any number of vegetables and roll into warm corn tortillas.
- Smear on grilled flatbread and top with an egg fried in olive oil.
- Stir into broth for cooking couscous or rice. Serve the cooked grains with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, olives, fresh herbs, a crumble of cheese, and toasted nuts. Top with a poached egg to gild the lily.
- Swirl into a bowl of pretty much any soup to take it from just fine to truly incredible. Think Asian noodles soups, Italian-style broth soups, Mexican-style tortilla soups.
- Whisk into vinaigrettes.
- Add to pasta sauces, creamy or tomato, for lovely color and depth of flavor.
- Mix into and onto meatloaf or meatballs.
- Brush onto grilling or roasting chicken.
- Spread on generously buttered bread before making your best grilled cheese sandwich ever. Ditto quesadillas.
Do not be surprised if you consider rubbing it into sore muscles!
10 dried chiles, any type(s) you like (I used a mix of hot and medium heat varieties), stems & seeds removed
6 large vine-ripened tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted
1 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted
1 tsp. caraway seeds, toasted
Heat oven to 300 degrees.
Place chiles on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 2-3 minutes. They should be a bit darkened and fragrant, but not burned (place them back in the oven for a couple of minutes if needed, but watch carefully). Transfer chiles to a large bowl and cover with hottest tap water. Soak for at least 30 minutes until softened.
Meanwhile, place tomatoes cut-side-up on baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Roast in oven for 1 hour until tomatoes are browned in a few spots and have lost some of their juiciness.
Drain chiles, reserving their soaking liquid. Add them to the bowl of a food processor (or large blender) along with the garlic and toasted spices. Puree to a thick paste, adding some of the chile soaking liquid if needed. Transfer to a large sauce pan. Add the tomatoes to the same food processor bowl and process until smooth. Stir into the chile paste. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then turn heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until puree is quite thick. Season to taste with salt. Cool and transfer to an airtight container (a glass canning jar works well). Top with a think layer of olive oil and refrigerate. Will keep for a couple of weeks.