Say Hello to Harissa
If you are an avid reader of Halal Consumer Magazine, you may recall Chef Demetrios Haralambatos mentioning harissa in his article “Upcoming Culinary Trends” for issue 52. Harissa hails originally from Tunisia and is a blend made up of red peppers, spices, and oils often used in North African cuisine. Though Chef Haralambatos notes that the type of peppers traditionally used are roasted baklouti peppers, you will find recipes all over the internet using the dried chilies that you can typically find in any grocery store.
Although the type of peppers used can have a significant impact on the flavor of your harissa, it is still typically more complex than most other hot sauces, says Jeff Koehler in his article for The Washington Post. Koehler described its flavor as “[r]obust and with a nutty, pungent earthiness behind the heat” and noted that “harissa added with a prudent hand brings a different dimension of flavor to a dish.”
There is also some variety behind the spices used that can also alter the flavor. Though caraway seeds, cumin, and coriander seeds are staples, some recipes add smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic, or even tomato paste. One of the essential ingredients—besides the peppers, of course—is olive oil, and every recipe must include it. Together, these ingredients make for a delicious blend that you can use in a myriad of different ways.
Harissa is sometimes called Tunisia’s national condiment, and rightfully so. In an article for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Zhong Xingfei notes that Tunisia is the largest exporter of harissa, and it makes up the second most important export of the country’s canned food industry. It has now made its way to specialty grocery stores across the United States and is becoming more commonplace in the products you might find on shelves. There’s even an IFANCA halal-certified version of the spice itself: World Flavors™ Harissa Seasoning from iSpice.
If the delicious taste of this dish isn’t enough to convince you to try it, perhaps the health benefits will. According to Penn Medicine, capsaicin, a chemical compound found in the spicy peppers that make up harissa, can promote heart health, weight loss, and a well-functioning digestive system. In general, spicy food may also help you live longer. A 2015 study from The BMJ found that “[c]ompared with participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 6 or 7 days a week showed a 14% relative risk reduction in total mortality.” Yet another reason to love this fiery dish!
One of the best parts of harissa is its versatility. Like other hot sauces, you can add it to your favorite dishes for an extra kick, or you can swap your butter for harissa and dip a slice of bread in it. April Fulton of NPR notes that it can be used as a base for many stews and curries, while Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen has recipes for Shrimp Harissa Tagine and Mediterranean Couscous with Chicken & Olives that include the spice. Simply search “ways to use harissa” to see the hundreds of articles offering tips on how to make the best of this spicy Tunisian staple. It is one condiment that you will never have trouble including in a recipe.
Perhaps you want to start making harissa a part of your culinary repertoire, but you are worried about using it up before it goes bad. Don’t worry: BBC Good Food reports that it can be stored for up to six weeks in your refrigerator once it’s opened. Homemade harissa probably has a shorter shelf life, although The Minimalist Baker reports that the recipe they used can keep for up to a month in the refrigerator or two months in the freezer. Fortunately, with all the opportunities to add it to your favorite foods, there is probably a bigger chance of running out than it going bad.
Whether you are a lover of spice or just want to try out one of the latest culinary trends, harissa is a versatile dish from North Africa that’s worth adding to any meal plan. Use it as a replacement for traditional hot sauces, eat it plain with a slice of warm bread, or craft an entire meal around it. No matter if it is homemade or store-bought, harissa is sure to spice up any recipe.
Alison DeGuide is a content developer at IFANCA as well as the editor of Halal Consumer Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California where she also did her undergraduate studies.