Yotam Ottolenghi describes North African harissa as his favourite of all chilli sauces and he puts it to all kinds of uses, from flavouring stews and marinating meat and fish, to jazzing up vegetables, plain rice and couscous. Made from chillies and a mix of spices, traditionally including caraway and cumin, harissa is a brilliant quick-fix condiment, adding fragrance, spice and sweet smokiness to your dishes.
Harissa is available in North African shops and most supermarkets these days, but the difference in chilli kick between one harissa and the next can be huge. Ottolenghi uses Belazu's rose harissa, with the addition of rose petals for a subtle floral fragrance and with more heat than regular supermarket varieties. "If you're starting with something else, then you'll need to taste what you have and gauge how much to use", he recommends or go a step further and make your own homemade harissa so that you can control the heat levels.
Harissa is a must-have ingredient if you love cooking your way through Ottolenghi's cookbooks as much as we do. Here are some of our favourite Ottolenghi recipes championing harissa, including a selection you'll find in his newest cookbook, Ottolenghi FLAVOUR.
The Ultimate Traybake Ragù from Ottolenghi FLAVOUR by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ixta Belfrage
Yotam and Ixta tested this special meatless ragù again and again to get the balance and depth of flavours just right. "There’s no denying the list of ingredients is long, but these are all there to give the ragù its fantastic umaminess", he says. Rose harissa provides fragrance and modest spice here, along with earthy lentils, porcini mushrooms, white miso, red wine and coconut cream for layers of complex flavour. It's a winner!
A brunch classic is a brunch classic for a reason. This shakshuka combines fragrantly spiced tomato sauce with runny eggs, cooked in one pan and served with spoonfuls of labneh and bread to scoop it all up.
Hailing from the Tunisian city of Bizerte – the northernmost city in Africa – this pretty dish is, in Ottolenghi's words "sweet and spicy and beautifully aromatic". Fish fillets are marinated in a harissa and cumin concoction, fried and served in a tangy, sweet, cinnamon and rose-spiked sauce with juicy currants. Delicious with rice or couscous.
Fragrant harissa, earthy cumin and sweet honey work wonders with carrots here, roasted until caramelised and sticky. Bright and full of flavour, Ottolenghi recommends serving these carrots with chicken, slow-cooked lamb or a selection of vegetables and legumes.
Pappardelle with Rose Harissa, Black Olives and Capers from Ottolenghi SIMPLE by Yotam Ottolenghi
Wide strands of pappardelle pasta pair perfectly with this sweet tomato and harissa sauce, dotted with Kalamata olives and capers. Ottolenghi likes it spicy but you can reduce the amount of harissa if you prefer.
Spicy, smoky and fragrant best describes this sumptuous autumnal chicken dish, topped with a rich corn crust. You can serve the chicken just as it is, without the corn topping, and with plenty of bread to mop up the sauce.
Super Soft Courgettes from Ottolenghi FLAVOUR by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ixta Belfrage
Courgettes are cooked slowly in their own juices here until luxuriously soft. Soaked in fried garlic, harissa, chilli and preserved lemon to sponge up all those delicious flavours, this dish is best served at room temperature as part of a mezze spread.
"The sweetness of carrots makes them a bestselling vegetable in North Africa, where the combination of sweet with sour and spicy is used to make some unusually harmonious creations", says Ottolenghi who has created this sharp, hot spread combining carrots with harissa, garlic and orange zest, and contrasting it with cold, zingy yoghurt. Delicious!