A full briefing on harissa and rose harissa

How did I come to write this post?

I am a great fan of Ottolenghi and, particularly of his ‘Simple’ cookbooks. In the first he lists rose harissa as one of his top ten sauces. So I bought a jar.

It got put in the cupboard and forgotten.

And then I fractured my spine.

Interesting things happen in the Saucy Dressings household when I get ill (see Bratkartoffeln). On this occasion the Chief Taster opted to throw together a pasta with tomato sauce for a quick supper.

By the time we reached the table he was enthusiastically triumphant. “I think this might be one of the best tomato sauces I’ve made yet” he commented. “The secret ingredient is a jar I found in the larder. Look, here it is. You have to be careful with it… a little goes a long way… but it adds a dark intensity. I think you could use it in all sorts of things and they would all be just that bit improved.”

And the jar was, of course, a jar of rose harissa.

What is harissa, and what is the difference between harissa and rose harissa?

Harissa is a spicy sauce originating from Tunisia and comprising red chilli peppers (often Baklouti or Serrano), cumin and caraway, garlic, olive oil and an acid (Ottolenghi uses preserved lemon skin as well as sherry vinegar).

Follow this link for Ottolenghi’s recipe which is the best I’ve found so far.

The peppers used commonly come from the Cap Bon peninsula, which reaches up from Tunisia towards Sicily. They are hotter than Aleppo pepper for example (over 40,000 on the Scoville scale, as opposed to Aleppo pepper’s 10,000).

Belazu now make a smoked chilli harissa, and also a very good apricot harissa (made with apricots and ras el hanout).

How did I come to write this post? I am a great fan of Ottolenghi and, particularly of his ‘Simple’ cookbooks. In the first he lists rose harissa as one of his top ten sauces. So a bought a jar. It got put in the cupboard and forgotten. And then I fractured my spine. Interesting things happen in the Saucy Dressings household when I get ill (see Bratkartoffeln). On this occasion the Chief Taster opted to throw together a pasta with tomato sauce. By the time we reached the table he was enthusiastically triumphant. “I think this might be one of the best tomato sauces I’ve made yet” he commented. “The secret ingredient is a jar I found in the larder. Look, here it is. You have to be careful with it… a little goes a long way… but it adds a dark intensity. I think you could use it in all sorts of things and they would all be just that bit improved.” And the jar was, of course, a jar of rose harissa. What is harissa, and what is the difference between harissa and rose harissa? Harissa is a spicy sauce originating from Tunisia and comprising red chilli peppers (often Baklouti or Serrano), cumin and caraway, garlic, olive oil and an acid (Ottolenghi uses preserved lemons). The peppers used commonly come from the Cap Bon peninsula, which reaches up from Tunisia towards Sicily. They are hotter than Aleppo pepper for example (over 40,000 on the Scoville scale, as opposed to Aleppo pepper’s 10,000). What is the difference between harissa and rose harissa? There’s an obvious answer to this – rose! Rose harissa contains dried rose petals, and, usually, rosewater too. This softens the heat of the chillies and adds a rich, complex, floral undertone. Ideas for things to do with rose harissa – remember, a little goes a long way. Taste as you go. Stir into yoghurt or mayonnaise for a dip Make a salad dressing, again, with a yoghurt or mayonnaise base Top scrambled eggs with a spoonful of rose harissa Top a bowl of hummus with a spoonful of rose harissa Add to a béchamel, a tomato, or a romesco sauce – for example, as Ottolenghi does, in his famous recipe for pappardelle with rose harissa, black olives and capers https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/home-garden/food/pappardelle-with-rose-harissa-black-olives-and-capers-recipe-a124216.html Add to a tomato and meat sauce such as you would use in a lasagne or a ragú Add to anything involving chickpeas Add to couscous Add to a feta and shrimp pilaf Use it to stuff red mullet and sardines Mix in with patatas bravas Rubs it, mixed with chopped preserved lemons, over a chicken to be roasted Add to soups – especially a pumpkin soup; or fish soups Mix in with roasted vegetables… carrots, fennel, celery Stir into lentils Use in a marinade for meat or chicken Make a sort of exotic Cornish pasty with filo pastry, and a filling of mixed cooked vegetables mixed with a little harissa Serve with tuna, black olives and capers Hot sauces and where they come from
The locals string the peppers up to dry.

What is the difference between harissa and rose harissa? There’s an obvious answer to this – rose! Rose harissa contains dried rose petals, and, usually, rosewater too. This softens the heat of the chillies and adds a rich, complex, floral undertone.

what is rose harissa
Rosewater – the difference between rose harissa and harissa.

Ideas for things to do with rose harissa – remember, a little goes a long way. Taste as you go.

  • Stir into yoghurt or mayonnaise for a dip
  • Make a salad dressing, again, with a yoghurt or mayonnaise base
  • Top scrambled eggs with a spoonful of rose harissa
  • Top a bowl of hummus with a spoonful of rose harissa
  • Add to a béchamel, a tomato, or a romesco sauce – for example, as Ottolenghi does, in his famous recipe for pappardelle with rose harissa, black olives and capers
  • Add to a tomato and meat sauce such as you would use in a lasagne or a ragú
  • Add to anything involving chickpeas
  • Add to couscous
  • Add to a feta and prawn pilaf
  • Use it to stuff red mullet and sardines
  • Mix in with patatas bravas
  • Or… in a variation, make harissa potatoes by boiling small, waxy potatoes until tender, drain, leave to dry. Then roast with tomatoes, capers, olive oil, a little vegetable stock and a teaspoon or so of harissa for 10-15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180°C.
  • Rub it, mixed with chopped preserved lemons, over a chicken to be roasted
  • Add to soups – especially a pumpkin soup; or fish soups
  • Mix in with roasted vegetables… carrots, fennel, celery
  • Stir into lentils
  • Use in a marinade for meat or chicken
  • Make a sort of exotic Cornish pasty with filo pastry, and a filling of mixed cooked vegetables mixed with a little harissa
  • Serve with tuna, black olives and capers
  • Belazu (which makes excellent rose harissa) suggests dabbing it over a salad of fresh figs, walnuts and mozzarella

What can you use instead of harissa?

Harissa is essentially a hot chilli paste. You can substitute other hot chilli paste from other countries – see below. Or you can knock up a home made version by pounding some dried chilli flakes in a mortar and pestle, together with some cumin and caraway seeds, some garlic, some olive oil, and some lemon zest. Throw in a few drops of rose water, or some dried rose petals if you have any to hand.

You could also use zhoug, which is quite a bit milder; or even zhoggiu sauce, which, not containing any chilli, is yet milder – its kick comes from the garlic.

Hot sauces and where they come from

Sauce Country
Harissa and Rose Harissa Tunisia
Sambal oelek Malaysia
Tabasco USA
Sriracha Thailand
Gochujang Korea
Luchito Mexico

Music to listen to as you read

Listen to Angelica Garcia’s Aqua de Rosa, as you read about rose harissa and one of its ingredients, rosewater.

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