Many WildFitters struggle with replacing ketchup, or finding ways to add variety to their meals. Enter Harissa, a North African Paste made mainly of roasted chili peppers. This spicy sauce can heat up any meal, adding an interesting kick to tomato or BBQ sauces, hummus, salad dressings, on roasted vegetables or in traditional Tunisian and Moroccan dishes.
Chili peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic pungency and spice. This substance is responsible for giving them the anti inflammatory, pain relief and metabolism boosting properties. They may also promote heart health and immunity. In combination with how quick and easy it is to create makes it a no brainer to try this month!
Prep Time: 15 minutes.
Cooking Time: 20 minutes.
Makes: 2 cups.
~80 grams of chili peppers (whatever your preference) I used Aji (pencil) peppers. *Hot peppers vary in length but the general rule is that the larger the chili the milder it is. Make the recipe more mild by adding fewer peppers.
1 large red bell pepper (substitute with green or tomato to make Spring approved)
1 beefsteak tomato
2 cloves of garlic, pressed and skin removed
¼ cup olive oil (I used oil with red pepper extract infused in)
3-4 teaspoons Ras el hanout spice (or combination of caraway seed, ground coriander, ground cumin, cinnamon and paprika)
Pinch of himalayan salt
Food processor, gloves for chili peppers
The real first step is contemplating: How spicy do I want this sauce? Usually Harissa is a paste, not a sauce. I am not a person who loves spicy food, but I live with spicy loving people. To me, this is a compromise. I can add a dash or a few spoons to an existing recipe to add some heat, or on it’s own as a delicious hot sauce. The spice lovers can then add extra to their meal or as a sugar and vinegar free substitute for Sriracha. By adding a roasted tomato I increase the volume and dilute the heat. If you are a person who likes only a touch of heat (like me) you may want to start with only a quarter or half of this quantity of chilies to begin with. If you want to go all in and commit to the paste (rather than sauce) just omit the tomato from the recipe.
Now you need to choose which chilies you’re using. You may already have a favorite, or this may be your first venture. I have tried variations of this recipe with chipotle and thai chilies and both were delicious. This time I used Aji (pencil) peppers for the typical hot sauce color and classic flavor. Make it your own! The general rule is that the larger the chili the milder it is, however it’s always best to start with a few peppers first and add more to taste the first time you make it. I also chose to use fresh chilies in the recipe to amplify the health benefits of this recipe, but you can easily use dried chilies and just rehydrate them first.
What makes this recipe stand out from a typical hot sauce is the types of spices used. I recently started using Ras el hanout spice mix, which I found at the Superstore (for any Canadian shoppers.) It’s a blend of cinnamon, turmeric, red chili flakes, coriander, ginger, anise, all spice, paprika, cumin, nutmeg, white pepper, caraway, nigella seeds, cardamom, mace, galangal, fenugreek, red rose petals, cloves, spearmint, lavender, and grains of paradise. Essentially, even without the sauce you could simply add this spice blend to any dish and have the essence of North African cooking in it. If you do not want to hunt for this mix, you can simply add a combination of caraway seed, ground coriander, ground cumin, cinnamon and paprika.
Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and placing a silicone sheet on a baking tray. This is not a necessary step but it helps make a fast clean up! Then place the bell pepper and tomato on the sheet and bake them for 10 minutes. When the timer sounds, turn the oven up to broil and roast 10 minutes, turning once, until slightly blackened and the skin is peeling. This high heat deepens the flavors and brings out the natural sugars, so that the sauce becomes slightly sweet without any added sugars. Peel the skins from the veggies and place in your food processor (or blender).
While bell pepper and tomato are baking, put on gloves and carefully deseed the peppers. The seeds add further heat and texture, which is why they are removed. You can plant the seeds if you wish, or place them in your compost. Add the chili pepper flesh to the food processor. Add the garlic cloves, oil and spices to the food processor. Process all ingredients until a smooth sauce forms. You can now taste the sauce and adjust flavors as you wish.
Optional: for a smoother sauce, you can pour the contents of your food processor through a fine mesh sieve to remove chili skins, missed seeds, and larger contents of spice mix (loss of flavour compromise for less textured finish). The sauce holds together well, so you may need to use the back of a spoon to press it through the sieve. I prefer it with the extra fiber. All these spices and the capsaicin are bad bacteria and fungus fighters, so this is a potent medicinal food. The fiber also acts as a probiotic for your good bacteria. Anecdotally we know the hotter the climate, the spicier the food. This seems contradictory until you remember that the same compounds that protect plants themselves from forgein bacteria and fungus also protect us when we use them as spices. Northern climates tend to have less of these bugs, and therefore more bland food!
The sauce is now ready to use in any recipe or other sauce for added flavor and heat. After making this sauce for photos I used it on BBQ roasted garden carrots and served it with roasted zucchini, carrot top pesto and WildFit tzatziki sauce to make a gorgeous vegan summer spread. Thought I would share in case you needed a bit of inspiration!
This sauce lasts up to 2 weeks in the fridge, or can be frozen for later use. I freeze it in cubes and then bag it and date it so I can pop a square into any recipe when required. As mentioned in the ingredients, because it contains a sweet red bell pepper it is a WildFit Summer recipe. You can make it a Spring recipe by substituting for a green pepper (changes the colour) or another tomato with it’s seeds removed. Enjoy!