As a Moroccan in London I am often asked ‘what is harissa?’. As is frequently the case when dealing with and discussing items sent from the heavens, words fail. Generally speaking harissa is an aromatic paste made from spicy chillies, garlic, cumin and coriander seed and herbs like mint or coriander with maybe some preserved lemon and/or tomatoes thrown in.
Sure, the foodies among us will find this laundry list of ingredients appealing enough, but without trying the right, authentic harissa made with love and care, one will have little idea of the ecstatic reality of what harissa does to taste buds.
Sometimes when I’m alone, I will put a dollop of spicy harissa on a plate. I will then pour over it a pool of extra-virgin Moroccan olive oil. I will gaze the rustic simplicity filled with so much promise in front of me and will dip a piece of focaccia into it and gently place it into my mouth. In these moments my soul is caught firmly within grasp of rapturous flavour and I am opened to a world of infinite beauty flowing over and through me. The chilli’s heat makes my tongue jump in pain and yet it yearns for more and I am rewarded with a flavour sensation like none other – spiciness, richness, freshness, sourness and saltiness all combine and permeate across my palate in waves and flows.
Unfortunately not all harissa is created equal. As alluded to before, one should avoid the harissa one finds in the supermarket at all costs; instead opt for the really good stuff, like what my family and I enjoy regularly and which we serve and sell at Zayane.
Our harissa is based on an old family recipe… Like a really old one. As far as I have been told by my 110 year-old Grandmother, who still lives in Morocco and whose superlative cooking skills haven’t diminished in the slightest, her mother (my Great Grandmother) invented our family recipe.
In Morocco we indulge in the delights of harissa in the most simple of fashions – as a marinade, with our barbecues or as a condiment for couscous (even with bread and olive oil as described above). My personal favourite is lamb couscous with root vegetables enlivened and invigorated by a side of harissa (incidentally, this dish is available on Zayane’s menu). Another highlight is our roast cauliflower starter that is pepped up with harissa yogurt. One time a customer came in for brunch and she asked if I’d make her a bloody marry with Zayane’s own spicy harissa. I obliged and the customer said it was by far the best she’d ever had. If I recall accurately, she ordered a couple more. My son and co-Executive Head Chef Joe and I also discovered by pure accident that harissa and chocolate are a marriage made in heaven… Who knows – there might be a harissa chocolate cake on our dessert menu one day soon!
Aside from our flagship harissa, we make a mild, medium lemony and smoked version. Indeed, when I’m not indulging in the super spicy stuff, I am revelling in the smoked harissa which turns meat, fish and vegetables into just about the tastiest edibles ever.
If you’d like to try Zayane’s harissa – and you’d be crazy not to – all you have to do is come and join us for a meal and ask me personally to try any and all of our range.
If you want to take something home with you – as our customers frequently do – we sell all of our harissa in jars so you can enjoy at home.
Join us at Zayane, dive into the heavenly delights and ecstatic flavours of harissa and take your palate on a trip of a lifetime!