the other day i was shopping at my local "fancy" (eg expensive) market picking up a few things i needed for that night's dinner when i saw this beautiful jar of red stuff nestled in the condiment section. i love this little nook where you can find things like tapenade, sundried tomato pesto, roasted red peppers and other tasty little morsels. well, the little jar that caught my eye was named harissa. "hmmm" i thought to myself "i've heard of you baby, and i'm gonna get me some". as i was roughly manhandling it into my wicker basket the price tag caught my eye. aghast, i quickly threw it back, outraged that such a little tiny jar could value itself at six bucks. being the tightwad that i am i harumphed away from my beloved aisle, muttering under my breath that i could, no that i would make this harissa, this pepper paste myself and make it better.
to make a long, tedious, dull story short (a story that involves consulting my little foods of the mediterranean cookbook and heading out to the mexican markets for supplies), i did it. i really did. and it didn't cost six bucks for a few ounces, either. the ingredients are pretty basic and the recipe very open to improvisation. my harissa turned out fantastic. i reduced the amount of oil since the jars sold in the stores resembled an olive oil spill valdez-style, and i increased the garlic cause i like it and no longer have to date. at first blush i thought it was too mild, my harissa, and indeed it is not very spicy, but the flavor is very good. if you like it hotter you can leave the seeds in, increase the amount of guajillo chile or just add hotter chilis. next time i might add a few chipotles, seeded of course. also, once the pepper sauce heats up it's spiciness increases as well. i added a healthy few tablespoons of the stuff to a sort of vegetarian tagine i was cooking that night. it added a depth of flavor that was quite surprising. following is the recipe, an adaptation of clifford wright's.
2 oz. dried guajillo chiles
2 oz. dried anaheim or new mexico chiles
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons water
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds, freshly ground
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon corriander seeds, freshly ground
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
soak the chiles in warm water for about a half hour or until they are soft. drain. put on some rubber gloves if you have sensitive skin or are using hot chiles. drain, remove stems and seeds, and place in food processor or blender. add the garlic, water, olive oil, salt caraway and corriander. blend until smooth, adding water if necessary. place in a jar and top off with oil. alternately, you could cut out a bit of food wrap and place it on top of the harissa, pressing down to remove air and screw on the lid. this is crucial to prevent little critters from growing on the top of your sauce and spoiling it. you can change the type and proportions of the chiles for a hotter or milder flavor.