Look out, Sriracha. For those who have enjoyed the Thai hot sauce since before it reached the mainstream, it felt like a well-kept secret was lost when it suddenly became available absolutely everywhere. It’s not any less delicious, but the hipster in me can’t help but feel it’s time to move on when my favorite “secret ingredient” becomes a featured condiment in fast food restaurants. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to look any further than my own garden to find the next big thing.
The new kid on the block is called harissa—and even though the hot pepper sauce with origins in Tunisia, Morocco and Libya has been around for hundreds of years, it’s making a huge comeback in culinary circles, giving “rooster sauce” and Tabasco a run for their money.
Like other hot sauces, it all starts with chili peppers. The spices are North African, and most harissa recipes rely on olive oil, garlic and salt, but the variations for this commonly homemade condiment are legion, depending on the region, ethnicity or heat preference.
Whether you feel like Sriracha is played out or you’re just looking for new ways to use this year’s backyard pepper crop, harissa fits the fits the bill nicely. Tailored to preference, homemade harissa can run the gamut on the Scoville scale (which rates the heat level of peppers), from the mild flavor of poblanos, to the kick of serranos or the fiery bite of habaneros. Many harissa recipes call for the use of dried peppers, but peppers straight from the garden give this new favorite a fresh flavor that puts the “secret” back in my secret ingredient.
- 3 bell peppers
- 2 chili peppers (select poblano, serrano, jalapeño, habanero, etc., depending on heat preference)
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Char bell peppers on hot grill (or in broiler) until blackened on all sides, then remove from heat.
Place a skillet over high heat. Once hot, add caraway seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds.
Stir seeds for one minute to toast.
Peel bell peppers, remove seeds and chop.
Cut chili peppers in half lengthwise and remove stems and seeds.
Combine bell peppers, chili peppers, toasted seeds, salt, garlic and lemon juice in food processor and puree.
With the processor still running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until sauce is smooth and desired thickness is reached.
May be stored refrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks. Add olive oil as needed to retain texture.