Harissa is a spicy red chili paste that originates from North Africa and it’s used so frequently in other parts of the world that it’s often viewed as a condiment. If you’re curious, you can read about some of the history and regional variations here, or learn how to make a standard version here. The recipe I’m sharing with you is more of a spread than a paste and the roasted carrots mellow the peppers and temper the heat.
I’ve recently been spending time with some of my vegan friends, and when I contribute to a vegan meal I like to find recipes that show off the potential in vegetables and spices. This harissa is perfect because it is packed with flavor and makes use of one of the few vegetables that thrives in winter—carrots. Roasting the carrots brings out their sweetness, which is the ideal way to balance the spice from the peppers.
I used dried Anaheim chilis and Chile de Arbol and found the results fairly mild. You can definitely up the heat by using a hotter dried pepper. Most of the heat in chilis is contained in their veins and seeds, so by removing those you are keeping the flavor and lowering the heat. The spice mixture in this recipe is ground cumin, black caraway seeds, and coriander seeds. I can’t describe the flavor combination—you’ll just have to trust me and try it. It’s divine!
Both times I’ve made this I prepared it in advance, and followed the instructions to store with some olive oil on top. When it was time to serve, I stirred it to incorporate the olive oil and found the final texture creamy and smooth. I bothered with the crostini once, but since then I’ve just been eating it with chips or rice crackers. The priority is finding a blank slate so the harissa can shine.
For those of us who are not vegan, I recommend serving this with crème fraiche and little parsley. The chips in the photos are Late July Sea Salt Multigrain and are conveniently gluten free, vegan, and delicious. Enjoy!
By Gingerroot February 2011