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Haute Harissas

February 16, 2016
Hot stuff: Peppers for harissa drying in the sun on the Mahjoub family estate in Tunisia.

Spicy food lovers: At attention! Do you want your meal seasoned—but not bludgeoned—with piquant heat? Then put down the sriracha and check out harissa.

Harissa is a North African condiment typically made of chili peppers, spices like coriander and caraway, olive oil and garlic. It’s as common as ketchup in countries like Tunisia, where it’s used to flavor dishes such as lamb stew and couscous. But here in the U.S., it’s transcending these traditional foods as a versatile flavor-booster for just about anything and everything. It’s popping up on restaurant menus across the country and making its way into the pantries of trailblazing home cooks.

Los Angeles-based company Entube is hastening harissa’s ubiquity with the recent introduction of harissa sold in a tube ($8)—a format that’s common in North Africa and Europe but a first for harissa produced in North America. The sleek silver tube makes it easy to squeeze the smooth spice onto eggs, pastas, burgers and more for a quick kick of heat. Entube is also unique in that it contains Amazonian acerola berry, which is high in vitamin C and gives it a novel citrusy tang that mellows the paste’s peppery punch and increases the depth of flavor.

We also dig these high-quality harissas in other forms:

As a spread: Les Moulins Mahjoub’s organic harissa spread ($15) is handmade in Tunisia with traditional ingredients grown on the Mahjoub family estate. The addition of sundried tomatoes moderates the spice level. It’s a robust, chunky tapenade that can be spooned onto bread and cheese, fish dishes or roasted potatoes.

As a rub: Teeny Tiny Spice Company’s organic harissa spice mix ($10) is perfect as a dry rub for meats. With chipotle, ancho and birdseye chilies, it’s super hot, balanced by a hint of maple sugar and mint. Add to carrots sautéed in butter and maple syrup for a fiery glaze.

Go ahead…Feel the burn.

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