Hot sauce is as ubiquitous as ketchup these days, showing up everywhere on our tables from breakfast to dessert, but harissa has a fiery complex flavor more like a chili paste then a vinegar based hot sauce. Harissa is a condiment/sauce/rub or seasoning that is mostly chili peppers, plus a selection of seeds (cumin, coriander,caraway plus others depending on the variation) and sometimes mint, and usually also has some kind of oil, lemon and garlic. Harissa can be a bit like curries, there are endless subtle variations on the basic recipe. Explore harissa and find your favorite, but I would recommend using it sparingly if you are just starting out with it. Taste your dish as you add the harissa in small amounts so that you can build layers of flavor and heat rather then blowing your head off with straight up heat.
This spicy tart sauce could be used for sandwiches or thinned out with any kind of oil and use it as a zesty salad dressing. You could use it as is, tossed with carrots and then roast them in the oven and have something in the neighborhood of Moroccan on a winter’s night. It’s easy, full of flavor and quick to make.
Most of the flavor in this recipe is due to the harissa. Harissa is actually North African, but it is used the cuisines of Tunisia, Morocco and France. How did it get to France you might ask? I was wondering that too. The French occupied Algeria in the 1830’s and then move on to colonize Morocco for roughly 50 years (1900-1957, you can read all about it here.) So surely the French were exposed to this traditional condiment and brought it back with them. Now, many brands of harissa are made in France, despite there seemingly “authentic” labeling.
Harissa as a base for a sauce that you continue to build on can be a great place to start. Because you are adding other flavors that can mild the peppery sauce, it’s a nice way to easy in to it. Like this tomato harissa sauce. The tang of roasted tomatoes adds a little bit of a tart-sour note that counter acts the spice, and the added little bit of vinegar makes this more like a dressing or vinaigrette, helping to thin it out (so you can simply apply it as a thin layer instead of a glob). You can find my recipe for oven-roasted roma tomatoes here.
Even as I’m writing this, David Lebovitz is posting this, all the way from France. Funny, isn’t it?
- ¾ cup oven roasted roma tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons harissa
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white wine or apple cider vinegar.
- Salt and Pepper
- In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
- Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.