Harissa is a thick, smooth red chile paste about the consistency of mayonnaise. It has a hot, spicy taste that isn’t apparent at first but which builds in the mouth.
It is made from dried, hot red chiles, garlic, paprika, caraway, coriander seed, cumin seed, and fennel seed.
Some versions have rose petals in them for a more complex taste; others add some mint. Some recipes called for sun-dried tomato, some for onions, some for beet and carrots.
The mixture is bound together with olive oil or water into a paste.
It is used as a condiment in North African cooking, particularly Tunisian, but also in Morocco and Algeria, for dishes such as tagines, salads, brochettes or couscous, or even pasta in Tunisia.
In Tunisia, the peppers commonly used are Nabeul and Gabes peppers. They are relatively hot (though they wouldn’t impress anyone from Mexico.) Some people in Tunisia make it from steamed fresh peppers, some from dried red peppers, some from dried red peppers with a few sun-dried tomatoes added. The mixture there is ground in a mortar and pestle.
Harissa started becoming a foodie favourite in the west around 2000, starting in London.
You can buy it tinned or in small glass pots. Commercially-bought blends advise you to store them, once opened, in the fridge and use it up within 6 weeks. It can also be frozen for longer storage.
Some commercial brands list carrots and beets among their ingredients.
Use in small amounts as a flavouring condiment in dishes.
1 tablespoon = 15 ml / 20 g / .7 oz (Al’Fez Brand)
Those who make their own say they store it for up to a year in the fridge, covered in a layer of olive oil and in a sealed jar (though at first blush, there doesn’t seem to be any acidity in homemade recipes that would keep it safe from botulism, etc. Commercial versions include citric acid as a preservative.)