Harissa

Roses are red.
Fragrant, too.
Roses can touch your heart.
They convey deep feelings.
Sometimes even make you cry.
So is Harissa (həˈrēsə).

The words Harissa dances and flows in the mouth quite effortlessly.
It brings many cherished images to the mind.

But what is Harissa?
Harissa is a fiery hot condiment and seasoning from North Africa and the Middle East. It is a paste of dried red chilis, garlic, and olive oil, with other spices such as ground red pepper, caraway, cumin, caraway, coriander, fennel and mint. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Makes Tabasco and Sriracha take a distant second and third places when it comes to a chili sauce contest.

[Recipe for Harissa cannot be more simpler than this…

About 50gm dried red chilies
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
Salt
Olive oil

Mix all together].

But the fiery red sauce is not for the faint-hearted.
Not even for the moderately-brave.
It takes a real courageously-daring one to even attempt to even think about making Harissa paste at home.

Therefore
I decided to make the recipe at home amidst all the usual naysayers.
“Can’t be done”.
“Not for Indian cuisine”.
“You need special ingredients… secret ones… how will you find them”.
“Why bother yourself when you can just add chili powder?”.
“We got SriRacha in the fridge”.
“Since when did you started experimenting with North African cuisine”.
So on.

First things first.
How many types of chilis are there in the market?
A few.
Wrong.
Many many.
Wanted to learn all about them before deciding which one to buy.
World of chili was so exciting that the first learning was that it might take longer than a weekend to learn.

So decided to choose
a dark, long one,
a reddish-brownish medium one and
a cute, round one.
(The intended ones were Pasilla, Guajillo & Cascabel. Must learn which is which).
Also used four different types of chili powders: Cayenne, Paprika, Red chili and Kashmiri chili.

Soaking the chilis in hot water was easy.
But the deseeding and destemming part took a toll as a not-so-easy burning sensation on the face.
Food-grade gloves and medical-grade face mask were used.
Not to mention industrial-grade eye-glasses.

While the chilis were soaking, garlic was de-skinned and crushed.
Coriander, cumin, fennel, caraway seeds were ground using pestle and mortar.
The four-chili paste was prepared.
Dried mint leaves kept aside.

From now on, it must be a breeze. So I thought.
Soaked chilies, drained well, went to the food processor.

Warning: The first buzz will fill the kitchen with the volatile component of the chili oleoresin that one must expect and take precautions.
From mildly uncomfortable runny nose and eyes to uncontrollable sneezing could occur.
So please be forewarned.
(Note: Harissa preparation will make onion slicing chore feel like a seventh heaven).

Having survived that grinding to paste stage, spices and mint were added and mixed.
Some balsamic vinegar was added to the paste. Lemon juice, if you so prefer.
Finally, the food processor was run at very slow speed while a stream of Olive oil was mixed in the emulsification process. The processor was stopped once the mixture achieved the desired consistency.

Due to the watery-eyed environment, many photo opportunities were missed.
But the few that were taken can be found here.

In short, the home-made sauce was a real unforgettable experience in the kitchen.
But if you ask em if I would repeat the experience, I would not reply without a bit of hesitancy.

While the runny-nose tells me no, the beyond-the-words taste of Harissa in fish and chicken urges me “you must”.

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