Roasted red pepper harissa paste is a bold and spicy chili paste with hints of garlic and lemon made without added oil and naturally vegan.
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Why You'll Love This Recipe
Have you heard about harissa? It's a red chili paste. This isn’t the same as a Thai red curry paste, although you will likely find jars of it on the supermarket shelves.
But who needs to pay for jars when we can make this versatile paste with a spice scale to suit us? Making homemade harissa means no added oil or other ingredients you might not want. Winner!
📋 Key ingredients & notes
Start with a blend of toasted coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds. And because we like walking on the spicy side, add a teaspoon of dried red chili flakes.
To bring out the flavors and add a smoky taste, take a minute to toast the seeds and chili flakes. This is easy to do. Simply heat a skillet, add the ingredients and toast them. Be sure to stir the ingredients continuously so that they don’t burn. Remove them promptly from the heat so they don't keep toasting.
Roasted red peppers add another layer of smoky flavor. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the peppers. It also softens them, so they are quickly turned into a paste.
If you have one, you can roast peppers directly over an open flame or on a grill. I usually roast mine in the oven because it’s the easiest for me. My best advice for oven-roasting is to line your baking tray with parchment paper or a baking mat. Bell peppers get sticky and can ruin a baking tray in no time. I speak from my lived experience here, friend.
The other trick I will share is placing the hot, roasted peppers in a bowl and covering them with plastic wrap. This sweats the peppers and loosens the skins, making them easier to peel. Sweating and cooling should take about 10 minutes.
When making harissa paste, the goal is to break down the ingredients and end up with a paste. How smooth, is entirely up to you.
You can go entirely ‘old school' and use a pestle and mortar. Grind the toasted spices and sumac first, then add the garlic and red chili. Get your workout and blend it into a paste. Then add the red peppers, lemon juice, date paste (if using), and parsley.
For quicker preparation, grind the spices in a spice grinder. Then add the remaining ingredients and blend until it reaches the desired consistency.
The pestle and mortar routine is a great workout. However, the more modern approach is often my preference in the interest of time. I get it.
Frequently Asked Questions
One advantage of making harissa paste is controlling how spicy you want it. The spiciness comes from the red chili flakes and fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper. You can remove the seeds and core from the fresh peppers to mellow them out.
Freeze harissa paste in an airtight container or freezer bag. Consider freezing small portions in an ice cube tray, so you have the right amount for adding to dips, soups, stews, and other recipes.
If you don't have time to roast red peppers, you can use the jarred kind you buy at the grocery store. Beware, most of them are packed in oil. Rinse them carefully in warm water to remove as much oil as possible. Dry them with paper towels before blending them with the rest of the ingredients.
🥄 Got paste? Now what?
Taste your harissa paste. Let the flavor guide you through all kinds of creative uses, but here are a few of my favorites:
Hummus – make a batch of oil-free hummus and add a tablespoon of harissa.
Chili – Harissa isn’t chili powder, but it gives a lift to even your most tried and true chili.
Pasta sauces such as romesco or Puttanasca can get a little makeover, maybe even a next evening makeover.
Replace tomato paste. Consider any recipe where you’d naturally use tomato paste and switch it up with a new flavor. Lentil loaf, I am calling your name.
Fries? Try mixing a little harissa with ketchup.
💬 Final Thoughts
Having flavor bombs ready to drop in a simmering pot is such a great feeling. One line of the cooks’ insurance policy. The assurance of knowing you can rejuvenate leftovers, favorite recipes, or just a pot of chickpeas and veggies. My idea of takeout, if you please. Peace.