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hot hot hot


harissa – hotness in a jar

Last year I was lucky enough to take a trip to the Top End of Oz with my good makes the lovely Missy Helgs and Missy Margot. A few days before we flew into Darwin my travelling companions attended a Sunday night Russian wedding in Melbourne. After the requisite toasting and vodka shots the girls hit the dance floor and were having a fine old time.

They noticed a couple having a particularly good boogie; an older gentleman and his saucily dressed younger wife. And as it turned out their attention did not go unnoticed. A little while later the gent in question, a dentist by trade, turned to my mates with a twinkle in his eye. Then with both index fingers pointing at his beloved, pretend-pistol-shooting-style said:

‘Girls, she’s hot. HOT HOT HOT.’

Finger pistols punctuating the air for emphasis. Well this just cracked everyone up and of course it stuck.

Over the course of our NT road trip, there was plenty of dodgy dance floor action (imagine an ABBA cover band at the Darwin Cup Gala Ball) and way too much hot-hot-hotting. So now whenever hear the word hot, regardless of the context, my mind adds in the repeats and I think of that trip and well, I just have to smile.

Another hot thing that makes me smile is the fiery sauce from Morocco, known as harissa. My first ever experience with harissa is still burned onto my mind and holds the record for the hottest dish I have ever cooked or eaten. To be fair there were a few incidents with habaneros in Mexico and a recent encounter with an authentic Szechwan hot pot that did come close but the aptly named fiery harissa chicken is still the one.

It was back in the mid 90s and I was just developing a love for North African food. In the fare exchange section of Australian Gourmet Traveller there was a recipe for fiery harissa chicken with spiced couscous and yoghurt dressing from the chef at the Vasse Felix winery restaurant in the gorgeous Margaret River in Western Australia. I was cooking a leisurely dinner for my then boyfriend and his flatmate in their dodgy flat whose only redeeming feature was the absolute beachfront views of Maroubra.

Now Nick and Craig were both subscribers to the hotter-is-better school of spicy food appreciation so it seemed like the perfect dish. I did balk a little at the call for 75 birdseye chillies (also known as scuds for the obvious reason) but decided to risk it. Half way through the deseeding process the skin under my fingernails started to burn. I was getting a little tired of the whole thing so took the dare devil approach and dumped the rest of the chillies into the blender seeds and all and made precautionary plans to double the yoghurt dressing.

As I pulled the inferno encrusted chicken breasts from the oven my eyes felt like they were on fire just from the fumes but I decided to press on and served up regardless. I think I did give some kind of warning before we tucked in but let me tell you. I’ve never seen three people devour a 1kg tub of yoghurt so quickly and keep looking for more. With tears in their eyes, between large swigs of water (we were out of yoghurt and milk by that stage) the boys pronounced it one of the best meals ever and a legend was born…all good things.

not-so-fiery harissa
makes approx 1 cup
Adapted from casa moro – the second cookbook by Sam & Sam Clarke.


There’s harissa and there’s harissa. Over the years I’ve experimented with both ends of the spectrum from super intense pastes based on mind-blowingly hot dried chillies to Karen Martini’s fresh harissa which has some fresh chilli but is mostly red capsicum and tomato puree. And while I’m a fan of both, this harissa is my hands down fav. It’s hot enough to keep you awake but mild enough to allow the other flavours to shine through.

Working with chillies is always a variable thing. If you do find this version a little too spicy for you liking, feel free to round it out with tomato passata (puree) or if you’re up for the challenge of a little more heat either roast yourself some more chillies or bung in some dried chilli powder.

There are a million uses for this hot little sauce. Mix into a dressing for potato salad as in the recipe below. As a sauce it works well with roast or grilled meat, fish or poultry. I’ve even used it to liven up some BBQ pork and fennel sausages and have plans to give it a whirl with BBQ haloumi, the squeaky cheese. It also makes a great sandwich spread with sardines a little aioli and some greens and I imagine it would work well as a marinade. Like I said, a million uses.

350g long red chillies, approx 15
1 red capsicum (pepper)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1T caraway seeds
1T ground cumin
2t smoky paprika
4T extra virgin olive oil
1T red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 200C. Place chillies and red capsicum in a baking tray and bake 30 mins or until chillies are super soft. Remove chillies and continue to cook capsicum until it is also browned and soft approx another 20mins. Cover veg and allow to cool and steam.

When cool enough to handle deseed chillies and peel and deseed the capsicum and place in a food processor. Add garlic, caraway seeds, cumin and paprika and whizz until you have a smooth puree. Transfer to a bowl and stir through oil and vinegar and season well.

Will keep in an air tight jar in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

potato & artichoke salad with harissa dressing
serves 4
Adapted from casa moro – the second cookbook by Sam & Sam Clarke.

If you find yourself outside artichoke season, do not despair. While I haven’t tried it I’m sure bottled artichoke hearts would work a treat or if you’re not that keen on artichokes just sub in extra potatoes. This is the perfect thing to serve with BBQ squid or if you’re in a more meaty mood chop up a couple of chorizo or other spicy sausages, fry them up and toss them through. Or better yet, combine squid and chorizo on skewers like in the recipe here and BBQ away.

One of the things I like about this salad is the artichoke preparation method. Rather than fiddling around with lemon juice and being worried about your cut surfaces oxidizing, you just bung your whole artichokes in a pot of simmering water and when they’re tender drain and then remove the inedible bits without any pressure. All good.

Ever since my discovery of baked potato salads last summer I’ve pretty much given up on the whole boiling thing but feel free to simmer your spuds until tender if you don’t have access to an oven. The key thing is that you dress your potatoes while they’re still warm so they soak up as much of the fiery flavour as possible.

600g kipfler potatoes, scrubbed
2T olive oil
6 baby or 3 large artichokes
½ bunch mint, leaves picked
for the dressing:
4T harissa, or to taste (recipe above)
4T lemon juice
4T extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 220C. Slice potatoes into thick rounds then toss in oil and season well. Place in a roasting pan and bake, stirring periodically until the spuds are golden and crispy and cooked through, approx 50mins.

Meanwhile for the artichokes, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the artichokes and simmer until tender. Drain and allow to cool then remove the tough outer leaves. Trim the tops and bottoms and halve if using small artochokes or quarter if using large and remove the furry choke bits with a teaspoon.

Combine dressing ingredients and season well. Toss through hot potatoes and the artichokes. When ready to serve toss through mint leaves and you’re good to go.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Casey 24 October, 2007, 12:24 am

    I just bought both Moro cookbooks–don’t know why I hadn’t found them long before this.
    Gorgeous phots with this post!

  • jules 24 October, 2007, 2:38 am

    hey casey
    I wanted to get both and had a hard time deciding but having loved the second have firmly put the first on my wanted list

  • zoe 24 October, 2007, 5:25 am

    Hey Jules, looks like you’ve got some content grabbing going on… those two top ‘comments’ are these sneaky automated sites that “quote” content from other blogs (so they’re not officially doing the wrong thing by fishing/scraping content)

    .. I suggest deleting the comments,so you don’t give them any traffic, I have made a complaint to Adsense before about similar sites, but no idea if it makes any difference. buggers.

  • Chubbypanda 25 October, 2007, 9:08 pm

    It’s a really great add-in to deviled eggs. =)

  • Susan from Food Blogga 25 October, 2007, 11:15 pm

    You know, I’ve found that recipes for harissa can vary quite a lot. I think the one I made was “choking and gasping” hot, so maybe I’ll give your subtler version a try. Love the first photo.

  • charlotte 28 October, 2007, 11:04 pm

    Hi Jules & friends – this is a general plea to your foodie brains trust. My brother-in-law is a great cook and newly arrived from the UK, and I’ve promised to take him on a good providore tour of Sydney to show him where to get great produce & cooking stuff of all kinds.

    I live in the inner west so have a thorough knowledge of everywhere over here, but he will be living somewhere in the eastern suburbs. Can you or yr readers supply me with some good ideas re grocers, butchers, fishmongers etc – ANY good foodie spots in the East? I’m thinking of starting with a trip to Fox studio market on Wed, and popping in to Fratelli but that’s probably about as far west as he’s likely to go on a regular basis.

    ANy tips?? Hate to be pushy but could this be a new post on your blog (which i LOVE)??


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