Homemade Holiday Gift: DIY Harissa

By: Liz Gray

Food-wise, December looks something like this: Cookies, cookies, doughnuts, cookies, candy, cookies, cake, cookies. Champagne. Cookies.  I love all those sweets (and the bubbly) as much as the next gal, but between bites of buttery cookies and homemade caramels, I crave something savory, spicy and delicious.

I'm banking that I'm not the only one who feels this way, so this year I'm making a batch of harissa to give to friends as a holiday gift. This ubiquitous North African condiment is popping up in restaurants and on food blogs everywhere, and you can use it in many forms, from ketchup-like condiment to star-of-the-show spice rub. Sure, you can buy it in a tube, but making your own is easy, and you can control the heat level and seasoning.

Here's how to make your own, package it and serve it up all month long.

What's Harissa?

If you've never tried harissa, it's a piquant, hot Tunisian paste made from dried chiles and toasted spices. It's traditionally served with kebabs, couscous and tagines, but outside of that, the possibilities are endless (more on that later).

How to Make It

Once you get your hands on the ingredients, making this paste is a snap. It's traditionally made with super-spicy bird's eye chiles,  but you can substitute the peppers of your choice to control the heat. For a hotter mix, use dried arbol chiles. For a milder spice paste, add some dried ancho chiles or even a roasted red pepper.  Chipotles and guajillo chiles will give you middle-of-the-road heat.

Homemade Harissa

Adapted from Saveur and Katie Cavuto-Boyle

Yield : 1 cup

Ingredients:
4 ancho chiles
4 guajillo chiles
4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 roasted red pepper
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon dried mint
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed

Directions:

Put dried chiles (ancho and guajillo, or whatever you're using) in a medium bowl. Cover with boiling water and let sit until softened. Toast caraway, coriander and cumin in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Transfer spices to a grinder with dried mint and grind until fine.

Drain chiles and transfer to bowl of food processor.  Add ground spices, red pepper, chipotle peppers, garlic, and lemon juice.  Turn on food processor. Stream in oil until the mixture is smooth and the consistency of tomato paste. Season with salt to taste.

Transfer to a clean decorative jar and top with enough olive oil to cover. Harissa paste will keep in the refrigerator for 1 month.

What to Do With Harissa

Now that you've got the spice paste, what the heck do you do with it? Here are some easy ideas to share with  friends:

  • Coat almonds in harissa, sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 300 degrees until toasted for an easy spin on spiced nuts.
  • Spread on chicken before grilling or roasting.
  • Spread on crusty bread with hummus
  • Mix in with olives or red peppers for a simple salad.

But don't stop there! Here are even more ways food bloggers are using this addictive paste:

Deb from Smitten Kitchen uses harissa, feta and mint to elevate the oft-mundane carrot salad:

Staying in the salad realm, this quinoa-and-chickpea dinner salad from The Whole Kitchen uses harissa-spiced oil in the dressing, and it might even help you recover from all those rich holiday treats. Yum!

Anna from Chef Wanabe uses her homemade harissa to make this mouthwatering eggplant-and-harissa sandwich. Also, how adorable is her mortar and pestle?

And for those cold December nights that you don't have holiday parties, warm up with Sassy Radish's hearty harissa-spiced chicken with chickpeas and onions. You can always have a cookie (or two) after.

What homemade vittles are you giving away as a holiday gift this year? Get more edible gift ideas here.

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