Blackberry Flummery
Zuni Cafe's Zucchini Pickles

Amy Scattergood's Harissa

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In the last week, I have eaten harissa with

boiled potatoes
stewed beans
scrambled eggs and a 3-minute egg
pasta (I know, I know)
and
sardines on toast.

Yes, it's true. Apparently, harissa is something that goes well with everything.

I had no idea. I really didn't. Would you know that harissa used to be something I looked at sideways, with suspicion? I would like to smack that former self of mine. How many couscous meals did I have in Paris that were simply begging to be adorned with that reddish manna? How many merguez sausages did I eat, blithely, stupidly unaware of how good they could have really been? Silly me, walking around Paris like I thought I knew what was what, eating baguettes and falling in love and living in a tiny garrett when what I really should have been doing was eating harissa.

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Clearly I have some catching up to do.

I used Amy's recipe to start, but then I saw Mary's post on the same subject and decided to do a little fusing of the two. Far less garlic than Amy calls for, and cumin instead of caraway - though less because of flavor than circumstance: I don't have a spice grinder. I also lessened the amounts of spices somewhat. This harissa is hot, yes, but not too too much, and incredibly floral. Something about the alchemy between the peppers and the spices and the oil creates this wonderfully lush pepper paste that begs to be stirred into and spread onto almost everything it comes across.

One thing I have to say before you go and make this yourselves? Please buy a pair of plastic gloves. I didn't have any, and ended up deseeding the peppers with plastic bags on my hands. I looked like some kind of self-mutilating basket case. Plus, looks aside, it made deseeding - already not the best part of any day - a real pain.

Tomato-pepper harissa

Makes 1 cup

4 ounces dried chiles (I used New Mexico chiles, but you could also use guajillo chiles or an equal mixture of both)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 sun-dried tomatoes, dry-packed
1 large red bell pepper
2 tablespoons best-quality olive oil, plus extra for storage

1. Roast the red pepper in the oven until blistered and collapsing on all sides. Set aside to cool on baking sheet. Place the chiles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let rest until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain, then remove the seeds and stems from the chiles. Wear latex or rubber gloves when you do this to avoid irritating your skin.

2. Place the seeded and stemmed chiles into the bowl of a food processor with the garlic and pulse a couple of times. Add the salt, cumin and coriander. Process until smooth, pouring the olive oil into the feeding tube on top as you blend.

3. In a small bowl, cover the sun-dried tomatoes with boiling water and allow to soften, about 15 minutes. Drain. Remove the skin of the roasted pepper, and the veins and the seeds. Do not rinse under water.

4. Add the tomatoes and one-half of the roasted red pepper (reserve the rest for another use) to the chile mixture, adding a few tablespoons of water if needed to achieve the right consistency. The harissa should have the texture of thick paste. Cover with a thin layer of olive oil and refrigerate until needed.

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