Move over, Sriracha, harissa is the coolest hot condiment around. It's so trendy, jars of it can be found at Crate & Barrel at the SouthPark Mall ($5.95 for a 10-ounce jar).
Harissa has its roots in northern Africa, specifically Tunisia. The best Tunisian harissa comes from chilies grown in two coastal towns of that country: Nabeul and Gabès. But since chilies are indigenous to the New World, these peppers were probably introduced through trade with the Spanish centuries ago. These chilies look like a hybrid of red serranos, which has a Scofield rating of up to 25,000, and piri piri. In other words, this is not a "breathtaking" hot sauce.
When homemade, harissa paste is made by pestle in a mortar — the word harissa means to pound. The chili paste is combined with spices, garlic and oil. Small tins are available at several Middle Eastern grocery stores in town, including Halal International, 3120 North Sharon Amity Road. Among the types of harissa there are jars imported from Egypt (looks like a picante sauce), Turkey and Lebanon. But the small tins of Conserve d'Harissa ($1.39 in the size of a tomato paste can) made in Algeria are higher on the shelf. Owner Mohamad Suleiman is on hand to help.
Harissa is traditionally served with couscous, Moroccan tagines, soups, and slathered on sandwiches. In Lebanon, it is used in a popular fish dish. There is a hotter version of harissa found in southern Tunisia called harous, which adds onions, sometimes fermented, to the mix.
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