Harissa and how to swing it

There is usually a jar of harissa – the top assiduously covered with a fairly thick layer of olive oil – sitting somewhere in my fridge. It sits waiting for me to make couscous (the dish not just the teeny tiny pasta), at which point I remember to pull it out of the fridge and dollop it on dinner.

Alas and alack, I am at the family cabin and there is no jar of homemade harissa sitting in the fridge. There are about a dozen jars of jam, four of which are strawberry. There are plenty of bottles of hot sauce, three of which are Tabasco – not even, I feel the need to add, different types of Tabasco; just three bottles of Tabasco so if, say, three people were eating they could each have their own bottle of Tabasco at the ready in case something remotely bland went down. There are eight different jars of mustard opened and ready to spread on sausages.

There are, in short, plenty of condiments. We lack not for condiments here on our little bit of Northern Minnesota. But is that good enough for me? Absolutely not. So I made some homemade harissa. Since I knew we would use the whole batch, I made it fancy, with herbs. It was crazy delicious.

Homemade harissa

If you like things hot, quite hot, toss a few arbol chiles in with the larger red ones.

2 ounces of large dried red chiles (ones labeled “New Mexican” work well here)

4 cloves garlic

4 stems of flat-leaf parsley

16 large mint leaves

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles. Put them in a medium bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let that all sit for about half an hour. Lift the chiles from the water and put them in a blender or food processor (let some of their soaking liquid cling to them). Toss in the garlic, parsley, mint leaves, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Whirl this into a relatively smooth paste-like sauce. You can add a few tablespoons of the chile-soaking liquid to thin it, if you like. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice, if you like.

Now what to do with it. Dollop it on stuff you want to taste hotter and more delicious. Steak, chicken, and vegetable stews are some of my favorites. Or, and this worked out quite well, use half of the above batch as a marinade for 1 1/2 pounds of chunks of leg of lamb, letting it all sit together for a few hours or overnight, and then grill those lamb chunks until browned and cooked medium rare. Serve with the reserved harissa.

Notice how the lamb is not all jammed onto the skewer. Notice how each lamb piece has a little room to breath. Please feel free to mimic this skewering method.