|Harissa: A Loving Spoonful|
Scientists have been working for years to uncover not just the science of taste, which is a single stimuli, but the science of flavor. Flavor is a multi-sesory process--gustatory, olfactory, tactile, and in the case of spicy foods, even one's tolerance to pain figures in the equation.
Junk food companies have been working to uncover this secret for years and just recently I've been reading a lot about how they 'hook' us into eating more than one portion. It's called the 'Bliss Factor' and it happens when a food has just the right amount of fat, sugar and salt; the right combination can make us keep on eating. And eating. And eating.
But who cares about junk food, right? What happens when that perfect combination, or that 'Bliss Factor' is achieved right in our own kitchen? Pretty much the same thing, except there are no empty bags to make one feel a sense of remorse.
I cook simple foods with fresh, local ingredients because I like the simple pleasures of eating and the taste of seasonal and less processed fare. But, I like to make sauces, condiments, spreads, dips, smears, dressings--you name it; if I can put it on something, dunk something into it, or eat it by the spoonful, I am so there; I like to dress my meals.
Harissa, my newest addiction, is so damn good and easy to make that I implore you to go and make it right now. Take a vacation day; call in sick; quit your job. Whatever it takes, you have to make this sauce! It's beyond good. It's complex and powerful; spicy, but not too hot, and it's so good on everything from chicken to bread to a couple of fingers dunked in the jar for good measure. It's downright blissful stuff.
One of my favorite reasons to make this is that you get to roast your spices before mixing them in with the peppers, which will infuse your home with the most amazing aromas. Close your eyes and you are immediately transported to the markets of Marrakech!
4 large red bell peppers, washed and dried
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 heaping teaspoon cayenne pepper, or, more of less to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
3 garlic toes, peeled
2 tablespoons sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400º.
2. Place peppers on a sheet pan and roast, turning every 10-15 minutes until the skins are charred and blistered and the peppers collapse and leak their juices.
3. Transfer peppers to a brown paper grocery sack, seal and let sit for 30 minutes.
4. Heat a small pan over medium-high heat and when the pan is hot, add the cumin, caraway and fennel seeds; toast until fragrant, stirring constantly so they don't burn. Add the ground coriander and cayenne pepper and toast for 30-45 seconds longer, until you can smell the spices release their aroma. Immediately remove the pan for the heat and set to the side.
5. Peel and seed the peppers and rinse under cool water.
6. Put peppers and garlic into the food processor and pulse three to four times to break down the garlic. 7. Put the toasted spices into a spice grinder and process until finely powdered.
8. Add the spices and sugar to the pepper mixture in the food processor.
9. Turn on the food processor and slowly pour the oil into the tube until all of the oil is processed and the mixture is smooth.
10. Add salt to taste.
11. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.