Go ahead and spread
Every few months, I reorganize my pantry and renew my supply of basic ingredients. Each community has its own special blend of spices, which plays a major role in that region’s cuisine. There are a number of spice rubs and spreads that are commonly used in North African cuisine, and which play a very significant role in many dishes.
A number of these items are mass-produced in Israel and can easily be purchased in grocery stores and markets, but their quality and taste cannot compare with homemade spreads.
This week, I bought bushels of red peppers, as well as sweet and hot dried peppers. In addition, I bought lots of hot green peppers, herbs and spices. I’m so happy to finally be able to respond to my readers who’ve requested recipes for spicy spreads, and tell them, Yes! the time has finally arrived.
So, I donned my apron and got ready to work. I prepared lots of little jars of peppery spreads, tied a pretty ribbon on top, and gave them as presents to friends and family. When I was done, I realized that I should probably bring them something to calm the fire in their mouths, so I baked a batch of Moroccan frena bread that can be eaten with the spreads.
Here is a short description of the four spreads:
Originating in Tripoli, Libya, pilpelchuma is a classic spread that can be prepared in either a mild or spicy version. It is made from spicy paprika, sweet paprika, salt, oil, water, a huge amount of garlic, cumin and caraway.
This Tunisian version of harissa must be made very spicy. It is prepared from hot dried red peppers, salt, garlic and cumin. The peppers are rinsed and soaked in water and tehina.
Pepper and herb spread
A mild spread made from hot green peppers, parsley, coriander, fresh garlic, olive oil and cumin.
Mildly spicy spread
This spread is perfect if you’re in a hurry. It calls for lots of chopped tomatoes.
TUNISIAN HARISSA Makes 1 medium jar
1 kg. dried red peppers Water for soaking 2 cups oil
1 cup water
Cut the tops off and then de-seed the peppers. Soak them in water for 15 minutes. Rinse them well and then grind peppers with a hand blender or meat grinder. Add the salt, oil and water and mix well with your (gloved) hand or with an electric mixer. Pour mixture into jars and pour a little oil on top so that it doesn’t dry out (about 3 tablespoons in each jar).
PILPELCHUMA Makes 1 medium jar
200 gr. hot cayenne pepper, ground 3 cloves of garlic, peeled, rinsed, and smashed or crushed
3 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground caraway
2-3 tsp. salt
½-²⁄3 cup oil
In a bowl, add 1 tablespoon of ground pepper and a little of the crushed garlic. Mix well. Add another spoonful of pepper and garlic and mix. Continue until all of the pepper and garlic are mixed. Add a little water, if necessary. Season with cumin, caraway, salt and oil. Mix well. If you’d like it to be a little more diluted, add two to three spoonfuls of oil or water. Transfer to a glass jar and seal well.