Harissa, the classic North African spice blend, is as common as ketchup in Tunisia. The mixture marries spices like cumin, caraway and coriander in a smooth chili, tomato and olive oil base. It's zesty without being too hot, balanced by the warm spices and earthiness of the chilies. We love the deep, complex flavor of Villa Jerada Harissa; our own Milk Street version is great, too, if you have a little extra time to make it. Whip up a double batch—it keeps forever in a Mason jar in the refrigerator. Here are a few everyday ways to use it.
Harissa-Spiked Tomato Sauce
A spoonful of harissa mixed into your favorite basic marinara flips a conventional sauce on its head. Toss with your favorite pasta, warmed chickpeas and a shower of feta and mint. Or spoon over roasted salmon and serve with couscous tossed with butter, toasted cumin seeds and cilantro.
For a Chickpea and Harissa Sauté, sauté one sliced onion or bunch of chopped scallions and a few smashed garlic cloves in olive oil. Then stir in chickpeas (15½-ounce can; Goya brand is our favorite), a small (15-ounce) can of diced tomatoes and a heaping spoonful or two of harissa before simmering for a few minutes to blend the flavors. If you have some parsley, cilantro, baby spinach or arugula, chop it up and fold it in. Have a few almonds or pistachios? Throw them on top for crunch. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with croutons, rice or toast drizzled with more olive oil. Once you get the basic idea, improvise with additional vegetables or different beans.
Use that same marinara as a base for shakshuka. Fill a skillet with the sauce, adding a little water or broth if necessary to thin a little, then bring to a simmer. Make 4 divots in the sauce and plop an egg in each hole. Put a cover on and simmer over low until the eggs have set, 5 to 8 minutes. Top with chopped herbs, pickled jalapeños, or crumbled feta if you like. Make sure to serve with plenty of crusty bread to scrape up the flavorful sauce.
To top blanched broccoli, cauliflower, peas or green beans, try a Harissa Vinaigrette. blend 1 tablespoon harissa with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon honey, 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon water; season to taste with salt and pepper. The vinaigrette is also terrific over hearty salad greens, like arugula or romaine. Or use it to flavor a lentil or chickpea salad, mixed with chopped arugula, scallions and toasted walnuts. I’ve even drizzled it over roasted or poached salmon and stirred it into egg salad, or coat roasted potatoes or sweet potato wedges with harissa during their last 5 minutes in the oven (otherwise it can burn). Cauliflower too. Or sweeten harissa with honey, thin with lemon juice to taste and drizzle over roasted carrots.
All-Purpose Harissa Dip
For your new favorite burger topping, spread or french fry dip, blend 2 tablespoons each harissa and ketchup with ¾ cup mayonnaise. Also fantastic on roasted sweet potatoes or slathered on a thick fried-egg sandwich. (Leave the yolk runny and top with Pepper Jack cheese—you’ll need a pile of napkins but it’ll be worth it).
If you have a little more time, try what we consider one of the best soups in the world, otherwise known as Lablabi. The combo of creamy beans, crunchy bread and the harissa’s warm spices is an addictive combo.