Homemade Harissa

These past two weeks have been pretty overwhelming for me because it's my birthday this week! And while that usually means a really good time it means that I'm traveling, which I seem to like to do on my birthday. This evening I'm off to Amsterdam and then Belgium solo, again and the planning which I usually never do, has taken over my spare time.

For me travelling is usually not a big deal, I'm well seasoned at it by now but I accidentally booked the trip for too many days and it's stressing me out. On top of that - I'm moving! Again! So I've been both packing for travel and the move simultaneously and I really hope I didn't mix up my bags and end up in Amsterdam which just a suitcase of bed sheets because I've been pretty scatterbrained.

All of this does mean that I haven't had a ton of time to cook and shoot. Mostly I've been busy trying to survive each full work day and exhausted evening as I struggle to organize my brain enough to organize my things.

I made this harissa about a week ago and it saved me by providing a sheet pan dinner one night when I was going to spend money on yet another takeout. Tell me I'm not the only one who eats is on a first name basis with several takeout and Postmates delivery people while in the midst of a move, lie at least to make me feel a bit better.

Harissa has seen a bit of a popularity boost in the west and deservedly so. It originates from the Middle East and Northern Africa and it's crazy versatile. Making soup? Add harissa. Bored with your veggies? Roast in harissa. Meal a bit bland? Harissa. Don't know what to do with the chicken? Marinade in harissa!

This is easy and most of the time it takes is in soaking the dried chilies. It'll keep for a month in the fridge so long as you keep it in an airtight container and covered with a healthy sheen of olive oil.

You can feel free to mix up the types of peppers used to moderate the heat levels, this one is mild but the flavor is deep and the smokiness is quite nice. Guajillos are very common peppers and have little heat but are earthy and vibrant. Ancho chilies are also mildly spicy but offer a luxe deep red and a bit of smoke. Very little heat on this so don't be afraid of it. If you're new to it, half the recipe - it still makes plenty!

2 oz dried ancho chilies
2 oz dried guajillo chilies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
3 whole peeled garlic cloves
4 tbsp good olive oil, plus extra to finish
salt to taste
2 tbsp reserved soaking water to thin the paste, if necessary

Put chilies in a heat safe dish and cover with boiling water, let sit for 30 minutes.
In a skillet pan add the seeds and toast until fragrant about 3 minutes, moving seeds constantly so they do not burn. Remove from heat and pan immediately.

When the chilies are soft remove the stems. Removing seeds from the chilies is completely optional. I removed half of the seeds. Add all ingredients to a food processor including garlic and salt - you could use a mortar and pestle but my arms are wimpy - pulse until smooth while slowly poring in the oil to combine. If your food processor is struggling add 1 tbsp of soaking water at a time pulse to blend and smooth a few more times. 

You can use this right away but the flavors develop and build over time so each time you reach for it it will be even better. Keep in an airtight container covered with a thin layer oil.

Put this on everything! I'll share an easy chicken dinner recipe soon.

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