Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jalapeno and Preserved Lemon Harissa


This is a fresh twist on harissa, and a good lesson in tasting your food as you’re assembling it to make sure the balance is right! First of all – credit where credit’s due – the basic recipe we used came from Steven Raichlen’s The Barbecue Bible. The instructions call for the ingredients (listed below) to be chopped/mashed up in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Easy right?

Yes and no. Initially we just put everything in the food processor and whizzed it together, but this first version had WAY too much shallot in it, the lemon flavor was barely there, and – worst of all, given that this was supposed to be harissa – there was virtually no (spicy) heat to it, even though we used 4 jalapeno peppers.

To remedy the situation, we pulled out the mortar and pestle and bashed up a few more chile peppers, together with some more preserved lemon. Fortunately we hadn’t added much salt initially, so the extra preserved lemon didn’t make it too salty. In the end, the combination of pureed ingredients plus mortar-and-pestled chiles/lemon did the trick – the final dish had a spicy kick and a really nice fresh, sweet and sour note from the preserved lemons.

So, the lessons learned are:  (1) be aware of your ingredients (are the chile peppers hot or mild? Is the shallot or clove of garlic particularly big or small?) and (2) Taste, Taste, Taste!

Here are the ingredients that we used. We’ve tried to adjust the quantities based on our experience, but as noted above, the only way to be sure is to taste it as you’re going along.

2-5 hot chiles 
2 Tbsp minced shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped 
½ – 1 Tbsp preserved lemon, chopped 
1 (small) tomato
½ Tbsp ground Aleppo pepper (can substitute hot paprika)
¼ tsp ground cumin
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

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