Low on inspiration for dinner? That’s OK! Let a sauce be the inspiration! Incredibly versatile – this Harissa Sauce with Mint is a twist on the traditional, without losing the chile and spice flavor hallmarks.
Many years ago, I’m ashamed to say, my view of sauces was an unfavorable one – one more thing to prepare as I whirled around the kitchen in an ungraceful flurry. And in that flurry if I could manage not to burn the food on the stove, then I definitely had a blender exploding in the corner with some sauce concoction.
Though I was a complete and total hot mess sometimes in the kitchen, I always loved being there and over the years my opinion of sauces and my ability to cook with at least some flow has changed for the better. A sauce really can and does pull a meal together.
On that note, I bring up harissa. Harissa is a Tunisian chile sauce made, in its authentic form, of chiles (different types), caraway, coriander, and garlic. This is one of those sauces you will want to keep handy in your tool belt of culinary go-tos. It goes well with meat, veggies, eggs (very very well with eggs), and grains like quinoa or even rice. (That’s really an all encompassing list right?!) If you keep some of it in your refrigerator handy for a night when you’re low on inspiration, it’s there to pull you up by your culinary bootstraps and get a delicious meal on the table.
Tomatoes and, of course, mint, take this variation away from the traditional sauce. The first time I made harissa, it was at the peak of tomato season, when tomatoes off the vine taste sooo good. Thus, there is a good amount of tomatoes in the recipe. You can also put your own spin on it by altering the kinds of chiles you use as well as swapping out roasted red peppers for the tomatoes.
The first rendition of this sauce was a bit wimpy in the heat department. Harissa is supposed to be hot. Mine definitely was not, but it still blew my mind. It is very easy to adjust the heat to your liking. That being said, adding heat is simple, however, removing heat is not. I suggest starting on the milder side and then ramping up to your own liking. (I have a great link comparing chile heat levels in the Ingredient Notes below.) If you do find yourself with a fiery version of harissa that is just too hot – double the recipe by adding more of every ingredient except the chiles. If you just need a little bit of cooling, adding more tomatoes and mint is a good place to start.
- Chiles – Great compilation and comparison of chile’s relative heat.
- Olive Oil – I opt for olive oil made and packaged here – California Olive Ranch.
- Tomatoes – I prefer to use fresh tomatoes if I’m making this during the summer. If I have time, roasting them for 20 minutes (chop into large pieces first) at 400 adds a wonderful flavor. If you are using canned or jarred tomatoes, opted for the jarred if at all possible. Tomatoes natural acid causes BPA to leach from the lining of the can. Many may wonder just how much actually leaches and if that level is OK or not, but I error on the side of safety when it comes to my family’s bodies.
- ¼ cup dried chiles of any sort and combination, measure after chopped *
- 1 cup diced jarred, fresh, or roasted tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
- 1½ teaspoon caraway seeds ** (ground seeds can be substituted)
- 1½ teaspoon cumin seeds (ground seeds can be substituted)
- 1½ teaspoon coriander seeds (ground seeds can be substituted)
- ¾ teaspoon sea or himalayan salt
- 1-2 tablespoons mint ***
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Cut chiles into large pieces and remove some seeds to lower heat if desired. Place chile pieces into a bowl of water to soak for at least 20 minutes. Touch the chiles as little as possible (I use a fork to handle them) and BE CAREFUL to wash your hands well afterward.
- While chiles are soaking, toast the spices. In a dry small pan over low-medium heat, toast the spices for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. After toasting, grind the spices with a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder, or a coffee grinder.
- Place soaked chiles and all remaining ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until smooth, about 10 seconds.
** If you don't have the whole seeds, you can use ground. You CAN toast the ground spices but they will take less time - 2 to 3 minutes.
*** If you find that you've made the harissa too hot for your liking, adding more mint or tomatoes can help cool it ... slightly. If you're worried about it being too hot, always start slow with the chiles.
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