Adventures in Harissa

Hi all! I got back into the kitchen this weekend and was joined by my little friend harissa. This North African spice paste goes on EVERYTHING. I have a laundry list of uses, two of which I've featured here. Other ideas? I'm thinking yogurt marinade, compound butter, mixed into ground meat for burgers, and tossed with green beans. The only thing harissa doesn't go on? Your tongue. It's a ground red chili paste so unless you're willing to vaporize a few taste buds, steer clear of direct contact.

A typical use for harissa is in stews and tagines like those commonly seen in North Africa. I find harissa functions similarly to chipotles in adobo by infusing a smoky back heat into any dish. I didn't have any couscous so I microwaved (read: mutilated) a sweet potato for my base and made a simple and savory chickpea stew for a quick dinner. 

You'll need:

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 18oz can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons harissa (this can be adjusted-if you're new to the flavor start with less, you can always add more later)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/8 tsp of cinnamon, ginger, coriander, garlic powder (you could probably use a chopped clove in place of powder if needed-just mix it in with the onions)

1 bay leaf

Olive oil

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil is rippling, add the chopped onion. When the onions are softened and slightly translucent (5 min) add ONLY the coriander. Cook another minute or two before adding the diced tomatoes.

Add the cinnamon. ginger, garlic, and bay leaf. Mix the sauce gently and then fold in two tablespoons of harissa. Let mixture simmer for 5 minutes before adding chickpeas and taste for seasoning (I added another dash of coriander, garlic, and salt to mine) Add chickpeas and allow mixture to continue simmering another ten minutes. Use the back of a spoon to crush some of the tomatoes and chickpeas. Remove bay leaf and top onto whatever starch you have handy. Couscous, rice, and potatoes are all good options. 

If you're looking for a more inventive way to use harissa (trust me, you'll need any way you can get to finish a jar) try this deconstructed chile relleno pizza. Quick note, I didn't get to add the cilantro-lime mixture because apparently there is a cilantro shortage I'm unaware of. I checked three stores and couldn't find any. Boo. 

You'll need:

1 pizza crust (I highly suggest Trader Joe's frozen par baked crusts)

4-6 oz goat cheese

Olive oil

3 tsp harissa, divided

1 poblano pepper

1 portabella mushroom cap, sliced (I think a few shitakes could work well, if not better)

1/2 small onion, sliced into half moons

1/4 cup frozen corn (I use Trader Joe's fire roasted corn)


Lime juice

Turn the oven to 425 and prep the pizza crust. Using tongs, hold the poblano pepper over an open flame to blister the skin. You can also get the same effect by placing the pepper in the broiler if you're uncomfortable with the open flame. Let pepper cool before removing skin and slicing.

I sliced the goat cheese into rounds and scattered the remaining teaspoon of harissa but I would suggest softening the cheese and mixing it with the harissa in a small bow to make a spread of sorts, it evens out the harissa. Dollop the spread onto the crust.

In a medium skillet, head oil with 2 tsp harissa. When oil mixture is hot, add onions, mushrooms and peppers. Make sure they are absorbing the oil mixture. After 3 minutes ad the frozen corn. Cook mixture until onions are slightly softened but not entirely. 

Scoop vegetable mixture over the cheese and place the pizza in the oven for 15-18 minutes depending on your oven.

When pizza is ready remove from oven and place on plate. In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of chopped cilantro (I prefer cilantro in a tube) with a squeeze of lime juice-it shouldn't be a terribly liquid-y topping. Drizzle over pizza and enjoy. Try an egg on it at some point.

There are dozens of ways to incorporate harissa into your daily eats but these are two fun ways to get started. Don't be shy with this condiment, just know how to tinker the measurements so it doesn't overpower other ingredients. Have fun experimenting! Until the next dish, ciao!