Roses are red.
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
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.
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”.
First things first.
How many types of chilis are there in the market?
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”.
Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomatoes or Shakshouka
Scrambled eggs in tomatoes is quite common for breakfast or dinner.
Mostly with dry chapatis or khubooz.
A recipe got from a friend recently took the dish to a completely different dimension.
A bit of ground Cumin and a few Chilies made the difference.
The recipe originally included the delightful Harissa* paste.
Since the home had a stock of Cayenne Pepper, Sweet Paprika, Red Chili and Kashmiri Chili, thought of replacing Harissa with the chili powders.
(Harissa: a hot, spicy condiment made from mixing dried chilies soaked in hot water and roasted- or sun-dried tomato paste, widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking).
Chopped onions were sautéed on medium heat with minced garlic in Olive oil.
Diced green bell pepper is added.
Once softened, all the spices were added ensuring that the raw taste is gone with frying.
Care was taken not to burn the delicate spices.
Chopped, ripe tomatoes were then added.
Season with sea-salt flakes and crushed black pepper.
Pan was covered on medium heat and cooked for 10-15 minutes.
The contents must be stirred a few times to avoid burning in spite of seeing enough water in the pan.
Small indentations (actually they are “wells”) are made as the number of eggs.
Eggs are cracked raw into these wells.
Cooking for another 10 minutes would just see the eggs settle from being runny to semi-solid.
Garnish with fresh Cilantro and the dish is ready to be enjoyed.
The next week-end project?
Shakshouka with the best-ever home-made Harissa paste.
Weekends are cooking days. Sometimes the daughter joins in but mostly it is alone.
Bahrain feels like the best-of-Europe with it’s mild weather. While sunny and bright in the day time, the temperature stays at around 12-14 deg C. The weather was never lovelier before than today.
Rib-eye Steak with Mushroom Sauce served with Mashed Potatoes and crisp, sautéed Mangetouts for the lunch.
Thai Green Seafood curry with Jasmine Rice for dinner.
[Ed: Those posts are for another day].
But the highlight of the day was Moroccan Almond Cookies or Ghriba.
The sweet from Marrakesh took everyone by storm.
Most of the dishes tried at home were tried before in a restaurant or at a baker’s.
Ghriba was an exception. Came to learn about the sweet from a beautiful blog in WordPress https://thetaste0flife.wordpress.com/
Ghriba is something unlike any of the sweets.
It does not use any flour (wheat or rice, eg.)
Sites those talked about Ghriba mentioned the Moroccan Mint Tea that goes well with the sweet.
[Ed: Forgotten to make mint tea, by the way].
Almonds eggs caster sugar lemon zest lemon juice almond extract orange blossom water.
The taste was much beyond the realms of any sweet tried so far.
Started off with zesting the lemon after keeping the oven to heat-up to the required temperature of 350F (180C).
Prepared the baking tray with parchment paper and kept aside.
Almond flour and sugar were then blended in a food-processor briefly.
Baking powder, vanilla extract, almond flavour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest were whisked in.
Egg yolks were then added to the above mixed using fingers taking care not to knead towards bread consistency. However, as the four eggs were added, the dough was bit like a bread dough.
Added less caster sugar though the recipe asked 125 gm as the cookies are going to be rolled on icing sugar before baking.
Baked at 350 deg F just till cooked… a cookie unlike any cookie. Inside the oven, the cookies began to crack about 12 minutes into the baking process.
The oven was switched off soon after the cookies started to crack.
Rest of the baking happened in the subsiding heat and for about 18 minutes.
Mildly crunchy outside and soft,chewy inside, the Ghriba was loved instantly at first bite. There sure is a lot of room for excelling and the pursuit of excellence makes the baking process more challenging and therefore enjoyable.
Reviews say that the cookies can be stored in airtight containers for 2-3 weeks. May not be applicable at our place. Confluence of flavours will take several hours was a maxim seldom listened to by the end users. Thus, the cookies finished fast. But their taste remains.
The succulent chicken came marinated in yoghurt and lime real hot from the charcoal oven.
And the Turkish bread was thick, soft and warm.
Date palms lining the restaurant swayed in evening breeze. Somewhere inside the open courtyard, the gurgling of a fountain cold be heard between the infrequent silence of the kids. Bell rang several times from the kitchen counter keeping the boys on their toes.
Quinoa Salad with grilled chicken and sliced almonds was served first. Forgotten to take a snap… food sometimes makes the mind blank.
Middle-eastern cuisine with the mild herbs and spices, plenty of green leaves, oil-less breads and grilled meat could be undoubtedly the healthiest. However, most of my Bahraini friends say they prefer the hot, spicy Indian food.
During a photo workshop, she was a model.
And when requested for a pose next to her own portrait, she obliged, smilingly.
Few could ever attempt to achieve that smile…