Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Harissa (semi-failure.) edit: redemption!

Before we get into anything, can we take a moment to admire these unmarred, brand new, lovely cutting boards I just purchased at Ikea the other day?


I love them. I haven't used them yet. Ha! Finally oiled up and ready to go, I had to replace some of my old smaller wooden chopping boards, they were getting a little funky. And god bless you, Ikea- these were only five dollars. Okay! Onto the minor humiliation.


First of all, before you read any of this and come back 2 hours later weeping, scrubbing your hands frantically- LIME JUICE WILL TAKE THE STING OUT. Kind of. But don't bother, just wear gloves, like I should have. Now that we have that out of the way- HARISSA. Harissa is an African chili paste that is currently the culinary darling of Portland. I first saw it on the menu at Toro Bravo, 2007's (well-deserved) restaurant of the year (and chef of the year, and blah blah blah) and one of Portland's most outstanding restaurants. The other night it popped up at Lauro, in the form of harissa ketchup. Jason said he'd had harissa ketchup at Clyde Common, too- the fancy schmancy joint attached to the Ace Hotel downtown. Every nibble of deep fried potato coated in spicy ketchup had me craving some of my own, so I got a bug up my butt and started hunting down recipes.


Like curry blends, it seems like everyone has their own version of harissa- though I did notice a theme- a combination of equal parts coriander, cumin, and caraway. Every recipe I looked at had this trio. Some recipes called for dried mint and fresh cilantro, some called for roasted red peppers. It was so hard to find one that I was sure would be THE BEST, that I just said screw it and started messing around with my own combinations. I don't know if I'm even pleased with my own creation yet, because I just made it a few minutes ago and I'm waiting until dinnertime to try it. It smells fantastic, and I did mix a bit with ketchup and give it a taste- whew! It was atomic, to say the least.


One thing that was kind of annoying is that every recipe had it's own ideas about prepping the chilies, and none of them explained why they called for a certain way. I am here to say: IGNORE THE RECIPES THAT TELL YOU TO SOAK AND THEN SEED THE CHILES. Seed them while they are still dry! I tend to screw up new recipes when I'm trying them for the first time. I try not to let it get to me too bad, but I get really bummed out when I'm trying to do something I'm excited about and I keep messing it up. Case in point- the first recipe I picked out called for 3 oz. of birdseye chilies. Hey, did you guys know that those chilies are REALLY TINY? Yeaaah. So, the first thing I did was pour them into a bowl and cover them with warm water. Then I was like "oh, crap- shouldn't I take the seeds out first?" So I drained the bowl and got to work (this part took a million years.) and then I realized that they were already partially rehydrated, and the dumb seeds kept sticking to everything. It was really frustrating! I remembered that we had a handful of larger dried red chilies in the cupboard so I busted those out and started seeding them. When they're nice and dry it's easy! You just crack them in half and roll them between your fingers kind of like a cigarette, and the seeds just fall right out. I ended up using all of those and as many as I could stand of the smaller ones. I ended up with about a cup of chilies. At that point, I realized that since I didn't know the exact measurement of my chilies, I was going to have to wing it a little. Why the hell not?

Based on a mishmash of all the other recipes I looked at, here's what I came up with (and I DO NOT NECESSARILY RECOMMEND THIS RECIPE, Y'ALL.):

3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. caraway (I DIDN'T HAVE GROUND, SO I USED WHOLE. LAAAME. buy it ground, or get a mortar & pestle.)
1 tsp. coriander
a pinch of fresh cilantro
1 cup or so of seeded rehydrated red chilies. (Soak them in a bowl of hot water for 30 minutes, then drain)
Edited to add: later on I added about a tablespoon of tomato paste and it's a whole new chili paste now!

Throw it all in a food processor and blend the hell out of it with some olive oil until a paste consistency is reached. Spoon into a clean jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil.


As you can see, my harissa paste didn't get that bright red glow that all the others I've seen pictures of. Is this because I omitted using any tomato or red pepper? Probably, I'm guessing. I think I'm going to add some tomato paste later and see if it improves the overall quality. My chilies lost a lot of color when they were rehydrated, booo.


Overall I can't say I'm completely disappointed with the way it turned out, but I know all the things I'm going to do differently next time-
1. I'm going to find a recipe online that is very specific and I am going to follow it to a T.
2. I'm going to buy an effin' mortar and pestle
3. Oh, I guess that's it.

If you want to try making this stuff, go ahead. I might just head to the African market and pick up a can of the pre-made stuff. Why the hell not? Harissa ketchup, here I come!

Edit: After adding some tomato paste I could tell just by smelling it that it was going to taste better. Now I'm hunting down recipes to use it in! Hooray!


house and home said...

Good or not good...the first picture of the bowl of peppers on the cutting board is great! Worth it all...lol