Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Marrakech and an insatiable desire for harissa

This is my first food blog post, which I am writing after having returned from a week in Marrakech. Over the past couple of months I have been in love with harissa and preserved lemons (due to the salt, I imagine by blood pressure is now through the roof!), over those months I was also anticipating a welcome holiday to Marrakech; perfect, I thought, my love of north African food could not have come at a better time - we even ate a hearty breakfast of juicy, harissary, preserved lemony chickpeas on toasted buns the morning we were going on holiday. Alas, my lack of research led to great harissa disappointment. Harissa, an ingredient in much north African food, is absent in Marrakech. Moroccan food in Marrakech is decadently sweet upon arrival, but nauseating upon exit; I arrived back in London confused about my opinions on Moroccan food and a harissa addiction in desperate need of a fix.
My first day cooking after getting back starts with a batch of harissa. The recipe is one that has been drawn from many influences in my search for my perfect harissa. This is how I finally got it:

- jar of roasted red peppers (preferably piquillo, see below)
- caraway seeds, tbsp
- cumin seeds, tsp
- large garlic cloves, 3 peeled
- ground coriander, tsp
- sherry vinegar, half tbsp (or red wine vinegar)
- rinsed preserved lemons, 3 smallish ones if beldi (or 1.5 if using Sicilian)
- smoked paprika, tsp
- dried chilli, to taste (I use roughly 25g)
- chilli powder, tsp (optional)
- pepper
- extra virgin olive oil

I like the rich, smokey taste of piquillo peppers, though if they are hard to find, then a jar of roasted red peppers will suffice. This harissa recipe has a strong Spanish input, which I find gives a delicious smokey flavour and the versatility to be added to more Spanish style cooking.
Place a dry frying pan over a medium high heat and toast the caraway and cumin seeds until fragrant, remove and allow to cool. Meanwhile place the peppers (with their oil), and all other ingredients (including the seeds, when cooled), except for the extra virgin olive oil, into a smallish food processor and blitz into a slightly coarse puree. Add a little of the oil if it seems too thick and adjust chilli to taste. Transfer the contents to a clean jar and pour over a thin film of oil. It should keep in the refrigerator for at least a month, to keep it fresher recover with a film of oil after each use.

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