Q. Does anybody know where on the Northeast side I can find harissa?
A. Harissa is a Tunisian chile sauce that adds a kick to numerous dishes.
According to Anissa Helou, author of the lively “Mediterranean Street Food” (William Morrow, $19.99), “If you order a sandwich in Tunisia, the vendor will automatically spread the bread with harissa the way Westerners spread theirs with butter, mayonnaise or mustard. … Harissa is also eaten as a dip, drizzled with olive oil. In homes, it is generally served plain, while in restaurants it is topped with canned tuna and olives. The plate of harissa is brought to the table before any other food for you to dip your bread into while waiting for your order.”
It is also used in a great many other dishes, the way some Asians use sriracha sauce or the way we in San Antonio use salsa.
You can find harissa on the Northeast at World Market, which is in the Forum, off I-35. It is also available at Whole Foods in the Quarry, Central Market on Broadway and various ethnic markets, including International Food Market at 1719 Babcock Road. The version I picked up at World Market was in a tube; sometimes it is sold in a small glass jar or can.
You can also make it, though I know that’s nobody’s idea of fun when you’re in the middle of a recipe. Still, here’s Halou’s fairly simple recipe, which I have made on numerous occasions. The fun of making your own is playing around with various dried chiles, tasting how each affects the blend.
Harissa (Hot Chile Paste)
8 ounces large dried chiles
15-20 cloves garlic
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup ground caraway seeds
Extra-virgin olive oil to cover the harissa
Pull off the stalks of the chiles and shake out and discard the loose seeds. Rinse the chiles under cold water and soak them in hot water or about 20 minutes.
Peel the garlic and put in a food processor with a little salt. Process until very smooth.
Drain the chiles, add to the garlic, and pulse until you have a lightly textured paste. The chiles should not be pulverized.
Transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the ground caraway and more salt if necessary and mix well. Spoon into a container and cover with olive oil. The oil will preserve the harissa. Make sure you top up the oil every time you use some of the harissa. Well covered in oil, it will keep for months in the refrigerator.
Makes just over 2 cups.
From “Mediterranean Street Food” by Anissa Helou