Harissa is a Tunisian pepper paste or condiment that is used to season meats and vegetables or to bump up the flavor in soups and stews. Although it is traditionally found and can be made at home in paste form, dry blends have been popping up in specialty grocery stress. The dry blend I have on hand has paprika, caraway, chili pepper, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, garlic, and peppermint. The jar suggests mixing it with oil to create a paste closer to the traditional preparation. I’ve been using it lately as as substitute for Cajun seasoning, especially for blackening fish. The fresher herbs give such a nice contrast to the fiery peppers. Harissa is often combined with lemon, another essential ingredient in North African cuisine.
The inspiration for this harissa red pepper dip came from closer to home. We were going to a barbecue over at some friends and was asked to bring an appetizer. Since I didn’t know for sure what we would be grilling, I thought of a multi-tasking condiment that would work well with chips, and as a spread for burger buns. It’s a simple three ingredient recipe, made with pantry and fridge staples: good jarred roasted red peppers, cream cheese, and of course, the harissa.
For a thinner, tangier spread, substitute the cream cheese for Greek yogurt.