What to Cook Now

This ex­otic paste is heat­ing up to be­come the next sriracha


This paste will punch your palate with a pow­er­house of fla­vor—and his­tory

Dur­ing the Span­ish oc­cu­pa­tion of Tu­nisia in the 16th cen­tury, the con­quis­ta­dors brought with them via the Colom­bian ex­change crates of chilies from their es­capades in South Amer­ica. The ex­change of cul­tures be­tween the Moor­ish and Spa­niards bore many won­der­ful cre­ations in the field of ar­chi­tec­ture, lan­guage, and food.

The Maghre­bis, im­mi­grants mainly from Al­ge­ria, Morocco, and Tu­nisia, were quick to un­der­stand and uti­lize th­ese new prod­ucts the Span­ish car­ried with them, from live­stock, vanilla, and beans to to­bacco, corn, and cap­sicums. Con­se­quently, this gave birth to the hum­ble ta­ble condi­ment and fla­vor pow­er­house we know as harissa.

There is no “orig­i­nal” recipe for this hot, aro­matic paste. Per­haps, each house­hold had their own way of pre­par­ing it with vary­ing in­gre­di­ents. Just like our hum­ble adobo, the Maghre­bis kept their se­cret recipes within the fam­ily and passed them from one gen­er­a­tion to an­other. Although harissa is made up of two main in­gre­di­ents: red cap­sicums and hot chilies, all other in­gre­di­ents act as sup­port­ing ac­tors to cre­ate a truly sig­na­ture con­coc­tion.

Harissa is ex­tremely ver­sa­tile and can lit­er­ally be used with any­thing that lacks punch. Be­cause of its chili con­tent, a lot can go a long way. It pairs well with sub­tle fla­vors and cre­ates a back door of fla­vor that makes the taste buds jump. Adding a dash in a hum­mus or cre­at­ing an aioli with a hint of harissa adds depth and char­ac­ter. Pair with a beef, lamb, fish, or poul­try and it’s a match made in heaven. It’s not very of­ten chefs come across an in­gre­di­ent with mul­ti­ple uses but harissa is an ex­cep­tion.

Whether it’s red or green (de­pend­ing on the bell pep­pers used), smooth or grainy (de­pend­ing on your pre­ferred con­sis­tency), spicy or smoky sweet (de­pend­ing on your palate), harissa al­ways de­liv­ers a fiery char­ac­ter to dishes with no per­son­al­i­ties. It’s cur­rently hot on the radar be­cause of the Amer­i­cans’ affin­ity for hot sauce, which even­tu­ally gave fame to cholula chilli sauce and sriracha. Harissa is cur­rently en­joy­ing the same at­ten­tion, more so with its ex­otic and multi-cul­tural his­tory.

It is a rel­a­tively sim­ple condi­ment to make at home, and since its pop­u­lar­ity in the Philip­pines is not yet in its prime, I strongly sug­gest you try mak­ing it from scratch and en­joy pair­ing it with a va­ri­ety of fla­vors.

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