Hot peppers were eaten millennia ago in Mexico and Peru but weren't available in the rest of the world until after the arrival of Europeans. Europe was always seeking spices, and once chili peppers were sent back to Spain and Portugal, they spread rapidly. As the peppers were carried to new places by the Spanish and Portuguese, each country would develop its own ways of preparing and eating them. Morocco embraced the spicy new food at some point in the 16th century and developed many ways to prepare it. One that is served with almost every meal is the sauce called harissa.
Harissa is ubiquitous throughout north African countries including Morocco. It is a paste or sauce made of hot peppers, garlic, salt, lemon, and olive oil. Usually, different kinds of chile peppers are combined to create the desired level of hotness. Many recipes include other spices which may include coriander, rose, caraway, mint, saffron, tomato, cumin - whatever will go best with the planned meal or the tastes of the cook.
The recipes used to make harissa vary widely, not only between countries but between neighborhoods in the same city and even between households and cooks. What they have in common is being spicy and being a part of most meals. Harissa is used as a base for curries, as a sandwich topping, on pizza, with vegetables, on roast meat, on bread, in couscous, and in soups.
For a basic harissa, sun-dried chile peppers are ground with garlic, lemon, and some salt, then slow-roasted in olive oil. If the recipe desires spices, they are included in the combination. Some recipes don't roast, simply blend together, cover in oil, and store tightly sealed. Traditionally the blending can be done with a mortar or by chopping them very fine with a knife and simmering until thoroughly combined. In modern times, food processors and blenders are used.
Come to KousKous Moroccan Bistro to taste authentic harissa for yourself!