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Harissa

What do you do when you’ve got a large collection of chillies in the house? Well, if you’re us, you make harissa.

Harissa is pleasingly easy to make, the hardest part apparently being to decide what sort of chillies to use. Our last batch was heavily chipotle-based, and not only are they good peppers to rely on for heat, but the smokiness is delicious and irresistable, so we went with that again. We added some anchos (dried poblanos) for even more umami intensity (though they have relatively little extra heat of their own), then some fresh chillies. First, some Apache peppers: small-ish fruit, and a rich red colour when ripe.

Apache chilli peppers

Then some Krakatoas, long and thin, with a hint of crimson:

Krakatoa chilli peppers

The Apaches and the Krakatoas were home-grown, though not by us. We also threw in some peppers sold to us locally as bullet chillis; they’re green and medium hot, with the same sort of shape as jalapeños or Apaches.

Of course, chillis on their own don’t make for an exciting harissa. Our other ingredients were: cumin seeds (both black cumin and the regular yellow sort); a large red bell pepper, to provide extra bulk and therefore reduce the heat; tomato purée, olive oil, and red wine vinegar; and a commercial ras el hanout spice blend containing galangal, rosebuds, peppercorns, ginger, cardamom, allspice, lavender, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, and cloves. Oh, and a couple of heads of garlic:

The cloves of two heads of garlic

The process is astonishingly simple. Roughly chop all the peppers:

Roughly-chopped chillies

Then combine them in a bowl with all the other ingredients:

Harissa awaiting blending

Finally, blend it all up.

Nearly-empty pan of finished harissa

We don’t mind getting an occasional piece of chilli in our harissa, but you might prefer a completely smooth texture. Once it’s at the consistency you prefer, taste it and make any adjustments to the flavourings. Then put it into jars, and top each one with a little extra olive oil, to help it keep fresh.

Several jars of fresh harissa

I’ve no idea how close to a “classic” harissa our version is, though I suspect the answer is “not very”. Still, in my humble opinion, it’s delicious: the dominant tastes are chipotle and garlic, and they’re excellent together, especially when the flavours have had a couple of days to make friends with each other.

This batch of harissa turned out quite hot, though still mild enough that you can eat a blob of it neat with a spoon and not feel like you’re about to die.

And on the subject of chilli-style heat, it so happened that, earlier that day, Lupe Pintos (the source of the dried chillies and the ras el hanout we used) was selling some cheap Dorset Naga chillies. That’s a cultivar of the Naga Jolokia, measured at well over 900,000 on the Scoville scale. Well, that’s impossible to resist, right?

Four fresh Dorset Naga peppers

I’m pleased to report that we considered using the nagas for harissa only briefly; anything that implausibly hot will surely need to be diluted with large amounts of other food. But that does leave us with a problem: what are we going to do with four Dorset Nagas? Suggestions on a postcard, please…