Harissa is a North African spice paste that is used as a condiment for most dishes. Traditionally, it contains dried chilies, olive oil, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. This version uses Sriracha, an Asian spice paste that already contains chilies and garlic, and combines that with the ingredients used in the authentic harissa blend, as well as raspberries, which were in season when this post was written.
If you are wondering what sort of authority that I, an Asian immigrant, would have with harissa and other North African flavors, well I’m glad you were
n’t thinking that. When I started to cook savory food, I wanted to not be associated with Asian food. Literally every family friend who heard I enjoyed cooking as me what traditional family recipes I knew. It was super annoying. I do not like being stereotyped. So I learned how to cook German and African food, and studied a lot about German cuisine and African spices. I just wanted to show diversity and that I wasn’t an Asian cook making Asian food. Granted, I haven’t practiced much with either cuisine since falling head over heels in love with Italian and French cooking, but this harissa in particular is one of the few African recipes I’ve adapted to be my own while I was still researching African flavors.
Raspberries are the perfect sort of berry to use in this recipe, as they offer a tartness and only a mild sweetness, while other berries, with the exception of the gooseberry, would be too sweet to use in this recipe. The sweetness level of the raspberry is enough to slightly tone down the heat levels in the harissa paste, allowing it to be more palatable for people who can’t stand spice or heat; trust me, as someone who can’t even eat a bag of Hot Cheetos without tearing up, I tasted it multiple times, and the heat just slowly builds up, and lingers, but never goes to the point where you’ll be begging for a glass of water.
Makes about 3/4 cups of harissa paste
1 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 cup vinegar (I used equal parts cider and champagne vinegar)
2 tablespoons Sriracha
black pepper TT
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon agave nectar (if too spicy)
In a food processor or blender, blitz the ingredients together. Transfer to a pan and over medium-high heat, stir continuously until thick. The reason why we’re cooking down the sauce is because with the amount of vinegar used as well as the addition of uncooked spices, the harissa would be too watery and overpowering in a raw state. Reducing it not only allows the seasoning to adjust to the ingredients, but gives it that authentic paste texture that it needs for it be classified as a harissa.
Harissa can be paired with meats, fish, and one of my personal favorite things to do with it is to put in on flatbreads. Think of it like a spicy tomato sauce or ketchup substitute, because that’s exactly what it is.