Hye Thyme Cafe: Harissa (North African Chile Paste)

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Harissa (North African Chile Paste)

Harissa : Hye Thyme Cafe

It wasn't until just recently that I tried Harissa Paste for the first time. It was served alongside a Duck, Beet, and Fingerling Potato Hash at a wine tasting dinner I attended at NOLA's Restaurant in Clinton, NY, for my birthday this summer. Anyone who reads this blog at least semi-regularly already knows that I grew up eating a completely different dish by the same name. Harissa, the national dish of Armenia, is kind of like a porridge. It's typically made with chicken, wheat, and barley, cooked down until the chicken is so tender it practically turns to mush, then it's all beaten together and served with melted butter and paprika over the top. I'm a big fan of chicken chili, so I don't quite let my chicken cook down to mush, but it's definitely tender enough to be shreddable like for chili.

In conjunction with a chile pepper challenge posed by the folks at Marx Foods, I decided to try making Harissa Pasta at home to use in a few dishes. It's super easy and delicious, and it turned out pretty much spot on to what we had at the wine tasting, although that was a little thinner. Much like with Pesto, I kept it on the thick side in case what I'm using it with doesn't need a thinner version. I can always add more olive oil, but once it's thinned, there's not much you can do to back that up without messing with the flavor.

In looking at various recipes online, it does not appear that there is any set way of doing this in terms of the chiles themselves - whether you use fresh, dried, whole, ground, etc.  Even the types of chiles varied pretty widely.  

3 pieces star anise
1/2 t caraway seeds
1 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
3 T granulated guajillo peppers
2 T granulated pasilla peppers
1/8 t cinnamon
3 cloves garlic
1/2 t salt
12 oz roasted red peppers
1 T olive oil

In a dry pan, over medium heat, warm the seeds and granulated peppers until fragrant and just beginning to toast, then remove from heat and let them cool for a minute or two. Run them through a spice grinder, then transfer to a food processor. I was afraid there might not be enough room, but I threw it all in the mini and it fit just fine.

Add the garlic, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse a few times, then add the roasted red peppers and olive oil and pulse to a paste.

Harissa : Hye Thyme Cafe

Another difference among the recipes I reviewed was the given storage time. Some listed 2-3 days, while others indicated that a week or two in the fridge was just fine. Lucky for me, that won't be an issue since there's only about a tablespoon left. This is good stuff folks! Can't wait to make it again and try it as the base on some form of crostini or bruschetta. So far, it has lent itself to some chicken Harissa, a Beef and Lentil Chili, and even made an appearance at breakfast. 

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