I've discovered a new food that rocks my boat. It's harissa - "a North African hot red sauce or paste whose main ingredients are chili peppers (often smoked or dried) and garlic. Though most closely associated with Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, it is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine.
Harissa often contains seeds like coriander, caraway, or cumin, and usually olive oil. It may also contain tomatoes. It is used both as a condiment and as an ingredient in recipes." - description from Wikipedia
I was on Heidi Swanson's 101Cookbooks site again and when reading about one of her recipes, a vegan asked what a good substitute might be for Parmesan cheese. Heidi suggested that she might try harissa. I'd never heard of it, so I did a little research. It's nothing like Parmesean cheese, but it sure offers a punch of flavor where you need it so was a great suggestion. I'm not much for very hot food because my tongue just can't handle it, but in my new vegan cooking, I am trying all kinds of new things. And I have a yen to grow lots of different peppers next year and am looking at the mild and hot ones. They are so easy to grow and I've enjoyed my bell and banana peppers this year so much. I'm letting the banana peppers mature to a flame red and they are so much more flavorful riper. And my bells are actually "chocolate" bell peppers, turning a beautiful brown when fully ripe. Now I have a desire for some peppers with a little more heat.
I found a recipe for harissa that looked good and tried it recently. You can make it as hot or mild as you want, so I decided to start on the mild side, though the more you use in your food, the hotter it will be even when "mild". I'm using it as a condiment. I've added it to spaghetti just before eating it, vegetable soup and stir-fried veggies that I put on top of all kinds of things. I can see it being used in lots of different foods. Here is a great article about harissa and the possibilities; some of the info I have added here.
I got my recipe here and changed it slightly because of what I had on hand. Here is the recipe I used:
2.7 ounces ancho chilis (dried poplano peppers)
1.3 ounces sun dried tomatoes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided in half
7 or 8 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1. Put enough water into a medium pan that would cover all the dried chilies. Bring the water to boil and then turn off the heat. Add the chilies and cover. Allow the chilies to soften - about half an hour.
2. If you are using whole spices, grind them in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.
3. After the chilies are rehydrated, squeeze out water and seed and stem them. Some suggest to wear rubber or latex gloves, as the oils from the peppers can irritate your skin and remain on your hands. I didn't use gloves and had no problem. But don't handle hot peppers and then scratch your eye!
4. Blend the chilies, tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic, cumin, coriander and salt in a food processor. The consistency should be a thick puree, the color dependent upon your ingredients. Mine looked like dark chocolate, because my chilies were very dark.
5. Transfer to a jar and pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil on top. Cover tightly and refrigerate for a few days before using. Taste and adjust salt as needed before serving. If kept tightly covered, it can last up to 3 months in the refrigerator. More olive oil might need to be added periodically to the top of the harissa to prevent it from drying out.
After you've made the basic harissa, you can also vary the flavor profile you want - adding cilantro and dried mint to the chili paste, or fresh chilies, onions, roasted bell pepper, or a dash of lemon juice. I added the dried tomatoes and will probably continue to do so. It's such a fun and easy thing to make and can be fine-tuned to your own taste preferences