Eating the same foods every day can get boring, even if you’re already enjoying healthy dishes made with familiar ingredients. If you want to taste something new (and also nutritious), try adding harissa to your food.
Harissa, a spicy condiment from North Africa
Harissa originated in Tunisia in North Africa. Today, it is widely used in both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Harissa has a chili-pepper base, meaning the condiment contains capsaicin.
According to studies, capsaicin offers benefits such as boosting your metabolism and preventing inflammation.
The versatile condiment can be used to spice up meat marinades or scrambled eggs. Harissa can also be served as a dip or spread for bread and crudites. (Related: Boost flavor and health benefits by adding herbs and spices to your meals.)
Harissa paste has a base of roasted red peppers and dried chili peppers. Other ingredients include salt and superfoods like cumin, garlic, lemon and olive oil.
Efi Naonm, the Israeli chef of Taboon and Taboonette in New York City, explains that harissa’s flavor profile is “spicy and slightly smoky.”
If you’re not a big fan of spicy foods, use harissa sparingly, at least until you get used to it. Adjust to your taste preferences by using less harissa than what’s recommended in recipes or when you’re using it as a topping.
The health benefits of harissa
Tori Martinet, a registered dietitian and the director of wellness and nutrition at Restaurant Associates, shared that spicy foods and condiments like harissa can increase your feelings of satiety. In short, harissa can make you feel full.
Capsaicin, the compound in chilis that makes them spicy, is an antioxidant that helps boost your heart health.
Unlike other hot sauces, harissa contains less sodium. The condiment may be beneficial for those who want to manage their blood pressure or anyone who wants to reduce their salt intake.
According to a 2015 study published in The British Medical Journal, researchers discovered that participants who consumed spicy food at least six to seven days per week had a 14 percent lower mortality rate. To enjoy the same benefits, incorporate harissa into some of your favorite dishes.
How to use harissa
You can purchase harissa as a ready-to-eat paste at most grocery stores or you can make it at home. The condiment is also available as a powder that can be mixed with olive oil and lemon juice when you’re ready to cook.
Not sure how to use harissa? Try some of the suggestions below:
- Add it to marinades.
- Make a harissa aioli.
- Make Moroccan sauces like heryme, which is a blend of harissa that also contains cilantro, fish stock, olive oil and peppers.
- Swirl harissa into dips, dressings, hummus or yogurt. The cool, creamy flavors of these foods balance the heat of harissa.
- Use it to season savory dishes while you’re cooking.
- Use harissa to make spicy poached fish.
- Harissa also pairs well with a hummus bowl, kebab or shawarma.
Homemade harissa recipe
If you prefer to make your own harissa with fresh ingredients, follow the recipe below.
- 16 long red chili peppers
- 4 large red peppers
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 150 mL virgin olive oil
- 10 g of 100% cacao (e.g., Madagascan)
- Pinch of salt
- Wrap the chili peppers in foil and bake them with the unwrapped red peppers. Roast for 25 minutes.
- Peel, de-seed and blend the chili peppers and red peppers, but leave a little texture.
- Toast the cumin seeds, then grind with a pestle and mortar.
- Add the oil and the peppers, cumin and peppers to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium heat.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, then spoon into clean jars.
Whether you buy harissa or make your own at home, adding this condiment to your diet can give you a dose of different superfoods that can help reduce inflammation and boost your heart health.