I go crazy for this stuff. It’s just the right kind of heat, plus it’s packed with toasty cumin. Strictly speaking, it’s not authentic to add tomato paste, but I do it anyway. I got the idea from this guy in this drool-worthy cookbook. My harissa comes together easily and makes the whole kitchen fragrant, ready for my family to dig in.
First things first, get out that little, black dusty pan that looks frumpy, but toasts your spices to perfection (any pan will do, really). Measure the cumin, coriander, and caraway into the pan and turn the heat on medium-high. Agitate and swirl the pan so that the spices toast evenly. Don’t walk away because a magical transformation is about to occur and if you’re not paying attention, it will sneak right by and leave those spices a burnt mess. The cumin, at first, will flirt with this notion of aroma and throw a musky scent into the room. Cumin smells, to me, like a person who has just been outside running in the fresh air and sunshine. You might imagine a certain someone—whose smell drives you wild—walking through the door, trailing a smile and electrifying scent. Coriander throws a citrusy floral scent into the mix, and caraway will keep a pragmatic undertone. Keep swirling that pan. The aromas will get stronger and stronger and mix together until they are intoxicating. This is the very moment to pull the pan off the heat and put the seeds in a bowl, then sit staring in wonder. How could something so little have so much to say? If you have a mortar & pestle, you’re in for a treat. If not, find some other way of grinding. A designated coffee mill works great. That said, I highly recommend a mortar & pestle, which adds two minutes to this whole transaction, but somehow captures the aroma more purely because you’re standing over the bowl putting your muscle into its release. Okay, now that we have the seeds crushed, add the cayenne, paprika, minced garlic, tomato paste, lemon juice, salt, and sugar. When all is mixed well, add the olive oil and let the mixture rest for about a half hour at room temperature. The smell in your kitchen will be so good, you’ll just have to close your eyes for a moment and be happy to be alive. After a half hour, the harissa can be used immediately, or stored in the fridge for an indeterminate amount of time. Mine has never lasted more than about a week and half, in which time it tastes as good as the day I made it. I’m guessing you could keep this stuff for quite some time. In other words, if I found it hiding in the back of my fridge after a month, I’d consider it time to make some poached eggs and cous cous. Enjoy!