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Edible Gifts For Christmas: Roasted Red Pepper Harissa

Roasted Red Pepper Harissa

We all have our own staples in the fridge – that jar of something that we spread on just about everything. Well, one of mine is homemade harissa. It has that wonderful flavour combination – the depth of flavour and the sweetness from the roasted peppers, heat from the chillies, a hint of spice and the kick of vinegar in the background. And to crown it all, there is the added complexity from the diced preserved lemons, which add that slightly salty, citrusy accent that I love so much. Spread it on bruschetta, mix it with olive oil and use it as a dipping sauce; serve it with chicken, fish or pork; use it as a marinade; mix it with chicken broth and drizzle it over couscous; or stir it into a tray of roasted vegetables such as red peppers, butternut squash, courgette, aubergine or baby potatoes. Endless possibilities for one humble jar.

You can buy harissa in the shops but the commercial variety is often too fiery. The version below is still hot but with more subtlety. I have added some roasted peppers to the chilli mix which gives depth to the spices without overly intense heat. Instead of roasting your own peppers, you can buy “piquillo” peppers in tins, preserved in oil, and they add a slight smokiness to the mix. (Piquillo peppers are chilli peppers – strangely without heat – which originate from Northern Spain and are traditionally hand picked and roasted over embers). If I am using piquillo peppers, I add a few extra to the basic recipe as they are much smaller than a regular pepper.

Placed in a sterilised and airtight jar, harissa will last about 3 months in your fridge. Remember to clean down the jar after each use and top with a film of olive oil.

If you are making harissa as a gift, make sure to squirrel a few jars away for yourself…

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You can add more chillies to this sauce if you would like it hotter.

3–5 roasted red peppers, peeled or 6 tinned piquillo peppers (see below)
3–5 red chillies
3 garlic cloves
50g rind of preserved lemons, finely diced
100ml olive oil
60ml white wine vinegar
2 tsp roasted cumin seeds, ground
2 tsp roasted coriander seeds, ground
1 tsp thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chop 3 red chillies and the garlic. Place the chillies, garlic and roasted red peppers in a food processor and blitz until they are chopped finely. Add in the rest of the ingredients and pulse. Taste and add the remaining 1 or 2 chillies if you would like a little more heat. Chillies vary in intensity, so it’s easier to start with less heat and build it up according to your palate. Taste and add more vinegar if you would like a little more piquancy.

 

How To Roast Peppers

Preheat the grill to its hottest setting. Place the peppers on a baking tray under the grill and cook until the skin blisters and becomes charred. Keep turning until the peppers are partially blackened all over. Remove to a plate.

Remove the skins of the peppers straight away, as the skin comes off in big pieces. The easiest way to do this is with the help of a small fruit knife. After peeling, remove the stem, slice the pepper in half and remove the seeds and membrane.

Alternatively, roast the peppers in a hot oven. Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan, 400°F, Gas 6. Rub the skins with a little olive oil. Roast until blistered and partially blackened, about 30-40 minutes. Peel as above.

If you happen to own a blow torch, you can also blacken them this way; or sit each pepper directly on a gas flame and turn every so often with a heatproof tongs.

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