If you haven’t tried harissa by now, you are missing out – it’s just that good. With as many variations as there are regions in North Africa, this spicy paste is often thought of as the Mediterranean/ Middle East’s version of Asia’s sriracha sauce. It is used as a base to liven up flavor in curries and stews or as a condiment. Harissa’s complex blend of spicy chiles, garlic, spices, salt and olive oil is wickedly addictive, with a brazen red color that is enticing and seductive.
I started making two different variations of harissa sauce a couple years back. I make the more authentic sauce/ paste, made with chilis, spices and olive oil, year round, as it has a limited refrigerator life of about 3 weeks. This harissa sauce for canning has tomatoes added and no oil and has a shelf life of one year, when canned and stored properly. We grow quite a few tomatoes in our garden each year for canning salsas and tomato sauces. Since I make several meat dishes by combining harissa with stewed tomatoes, this canned version was a no-brainer for me. This sauce eliminates most of the prep work, making it perfect for weekday meals, without sacrificing flavor. Getting a home cooked meal on the table on those days when I’m really pressed for time or exhausted from a long day is a definite win-win.
I like to use a combination of New Mexico, guajillo and ancho chiles. We dry several varieties of chiles from our garden each summer and will often throw in 2-3 other varieties. The point being, customize the mix as you please, with the flavor profile of the New Mexico being the main chile to base your additional choices on. Soaking the dried chiles in warm water before using them hydrates and softens them.
I dry toast the whole spices before grinding them, to intensify their flavor and fill the room with their aroma. Just take care not to burn them, which can make them bitter.
Rather than blanching the tomatoes to remove the skins, I use this Norpro Sauce Maker and Strainer with the salsa screen, as we like the tomatoes a bit chunkier. I run the tomato pulp through twice, which will give you about 20% more sauce. Several brands make this kitchen tool, such as Roma and Victorio, which can also be found on Amazon. It is worth its weight in gold and lasts for years if taken care of. This step can be done a day ahead if placed in an air-tight container and refrigerated.
The prepared tomato sauce, onions, sugar, vinegar and spices need to simmer in a large, non-reactive pot for 25-30 minutes, which gives me plenty of time to prepare the canner (water bath), jars and lids. This recipe uses the water bath method (much easier than foods requiring pressure canning) for high acid foods, so it is vital that the vinegar used is 5% acidity to maintain the proper acidity level. Most commercial vinegars state the acidity on the front of the container. Once cooked, the salsa will not have a strong vinegar taste.
After draining the soaked chiles (reserve the liquid), I pulse them in a food processor with the garlic, salt and some of the reserved soaking liquid into a smooth paste. The intense color and subtle aroma never cease to amaze me. The paste is mixed with the simmering tomato mixture before placing in the jars and water bath. The entire method is explained on our Water Bath Preserving for High Acid Foods.
This harissa sauce is superb on its own as a marinade or sauce with chicken, pork, fish and vegetables, whether grilling or roasting. It also enhances the flavor of stews, soups and casseroles and is killer with grains, pastas and potatoes. My family likes it so much that I actually have to stash some of the jars for cooking, as my guys love it as a dip and use it as a salsa on almost everything. Enjoy!