As it has evolved in my kitchen.
I hate calling it harissa because there are so many versions. With so many regional and household “must have” ingredients omitted here, that this recipe is sure to offend. Add further insult by including things that haven’t occurred to the Middle Eastern Harissant and we’ve really got a diplomatic problem. In my defence, however, authenticity of recipe goes like this in my head… “I have the greatest respect for country of origin, your ingredients, techniques and believe me, I’ve studied and tried them. But hey, your chillies taste different to mine, same goes for your garlic and by the way, your everything. So, it’s pointless following your strict instructions, they don’t work here. However, you have put together a time-honoured recipe that, for me, is the spirit of Harissa. I’m following that spirit and making Harissa according to Geoff. Please don’t kill me.”
I like my harissa to be rich, hot, tangy, spice scented, sharp with a slight smoky character. Hence the inclusion of dry-frying some ingredients for smokiness and using saffron and preserved lemon for depth, tang and perfume.
Photography by my good friend, Dean Cambray
20g large dried chillies (usually not that hot. Up to you if you go all Mexican and hand pick the combination. Hats off if you do.)
2 cloves of garlic, whole and peeled
2 serrano or birds eye (show me that bird!) chillies stem removed
2 large red chillies, stem removed and broken in half
½ tsp each caraway, cumin, coriander seeds and salt
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ a juicy lemon
20g preserved lemon
Little pinch of saffron
In a fry pan with no oil and on medium heat, press down the dried chillies until they start to darken, crackle a little and should make you cough. Turn over and repeat. Place in a bowl and cover with warm water and leave 30 mins to soften.
Take the whole garlic and fresh chillies and also dry fry them, no soaking in water required.
Take the seeds and salt, dry fry those as well and crush them in the large mortar and pestle you will need to get perfect flavour and texture. Blend if you must, but don’t tell me.
Now, chop everything roughly that can be chopped and gradually, while pounding introduce quantities into the mortar. Only add more when the previous load has transformed to a textured paste. Finish with the oil.
Wait at least 1 hour for the individual ingredients to meld into homogeny.
Now, put it on everything. Mix it through cous cous, turn it into a dressing (see Moroccan inspired lamb chump chops), coat fish fillets and grill, stir it into soup, harissa on Turkish grilled will replace garlic bread… Somebody stop me!