Harissa

Homemade harissa: Move over, ketchup and sriracha. When it comes to versatile red condiments, harissa is a must. (Emily Ho/TCA Photo)

Move over, ketchup and Sriracha! When it comes to versatile red condiments, harissa is my absolute favorite. This Tunisian chili sauce is a fantastic shortcut to spice up a meal and can be used with meats, vegetables, couscous, roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs ... even as a dip for bread. The list is truly endless.

I first encountered harissa in England and France, where it's often sold in tubes, jars or cans. Then one day last year, at a food swap, I traded for a jar of homemade harissa. It was much better than the store-bought versions, and ever since then I've made my own. Each batch is a little different, depending on my mood and the type of chilies I have on hand. It's fun to play with different variations -- some super spicy, others more sweet, smoky, earthy or fruity depending on the peppers.

To make harissa, the chilies are blended into a thick paste with garlic, olive oil and aromatic spices such as caraway and coriander (I like using cumin, too). Again, you can make it your own by adding a squeeze of lemon or herbs like mint, or even incorporating tomatoes or bell peppers. Or just keep it simple.

Use the sauce in traditional Tunisian and Moroccan dishes, or go wild and spread it on your pizza, hot wings, sandwiches and more. I love tossing it with roasted carrots, adding a dab to salad dressing and making harissa-spiked hummus.

Harissa

Makes about 1 cup

4 ounces dried chilies of your choice (see recipe notes)

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for storing

Optional additions: fresh lemon juice, preserved lemon, fresh or dried mint, fresh cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, cayenne, paprika

Equipment:

Heatproof bowl for soaking chilies

Skillet for toasting spices

Spice grinder, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle for grinding spices

Knife for stemming and seeding chilies