Fermenting Harisa

I spent some really nice hours today with my friend Joe Purches, a talented portrait and landscape photographer developing a new interest in taking pictures of food.  I had announced to him my intention to begin making a harissa with lacto-fermented chilli peppers and garlic.   Harissa is an addictive North African condiment of pureed peppers, chilli peppers, sometimes tomato puree, and garlic, cumin, coriander and my favourite bitter back flavour: caraway.  Several years ago I experimented with different recipes, but none of my home-made ones were ever actually nicer, IMHO, than what comes in those tubes you can buy in Asian groceries.

Because fermentation will take several weeks, I can’t yet describe what I am going to do exactly, though I made the decision to refrain from adding the seeds (cumin, coriander and caraway) to the brine.  So basically my experiment is to make the paste with chillis and garlic that are fermented rather than fresh.  Today I chopped lots of hot red chlilis, a sweet red capsicum, added some dried chilis, and a head of garlic divided into cloves.  (And yes, I rubbed my eyes prematurely—-argghhahhhh.)  Stay tuned to see how it comes out.  This harissa was inspired by the delicious uses to which we put our fermented jalapenos.

Joe wrote a really nice piece on his blog.  He was amazing to work with, an incredible perfectionist really, but fun and light-hearted.  I feel in awe of people who have the patience– also the tolerance — to contrive a naturalness from their food-preparation scenes.   Everything looks different through the lens of the camera.  Good pictures for a blog take a lot of time.  I’m not sure it’s always going to be worth my time, but in this case, the gift of Joe was a blessing.

His photos are beautiful.  I feel really lucky.  Have a look!