New trends have old roots

If you forget that America is a young country, as civilization goes, just look up “2016 food trends.”

Everything old – like, really old – is new again. Actually, some of the new predicted stars are ancient. Grains, such as farro, kamut and millet have been found in Egyptian tombs.

Another prediction is that we will move away from the sticky, sweet toppings and add-ins that kind of negate the advantages of yogurt, in favor of savory flavors from herbs, and garlicky sauces featuring vegetables. This will be welcome news for every tzatziki sauce lover out there.

And, since you can’t open a menu, or even visit a fast food drive-through without encountering sriracha sauce these days, it was inevitable that cooks are looking at other hot sauces to meet our new demand for savory heat. Many of the condiments chefs and home cooks will reach for have been used around the world for, you guessed it, a really long time.

Go ahead and practice pronouncing these sauces and pastes, including sambal, gochujang, dukka, yuzu and togarishi.

Today, however, we’ll start with a sauce that’s easier to find and that plays well with everything: harissa.

A blend of chilis, garlic, olive oil and spices that usually include dried mint, cumin and coriander, harissa is every cook’s friend. It comes as a paste or sauce and has origins in North African countries, including Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. Like most sauces, harrisa recipes differ from region to region and cook to cook. Some add tomatoes, some add rose petals.

For now, harissa is almost impossible to find in local grocery stores, which is OK, because it is easy to make at home, where you can customize its heat.

Even if you are not interested in being a trend jumper, you’ll soon be thinking of ways to add harissa to your every-day dishes. You can add it to yogurt for a dip, use it in marinades, or mix it with maple syrup and brush it on vegetables before roasting.

Of course, like most hot sauces, harissa really goes well with eggs, any way you cook them. Last Sunday, on a murky morning, my husband made a breakfast bowl of roasted new potatoes, sautéed onions and scrambled eggs. A fabulous comfort food, that could only be enhanced by a big dollop of harissa.

So, let’s get a jump on the coming year and make some harissa. Once the sauce is ready, you can put it in a glass container, cover it completely with a layer of olive oil, screw on the top and put it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for three weeks.

Here are some chili suggestions:

For moderate heat use a combination of Guajillo and New Mexico chilis

Bring on the heat by using Arbol chilies

Impart a smoky flavor with Chipolte or Marita chilis

For a rich sauce, use Ancho and Pasilla chilis

Harissa

16 dried chilis (any combination you like), with stems and seeds removed

1/2 tsp. caraway seeds

1/4 tsp. coriander seeds

1/4 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. dried mint

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tsp. salt

5 cloves of garlic, peeled

juice from one lemon

Soak the dried chilis in a bowl of boiling water for 20 minutes.

While they soak, add the caraway, coriander, and cumin to a small skillet over medium heat. Stir and toast the spices about four minutes until they are very fragrant.

Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind the toasted spices with the mint, then pour into the bowl of a food processor.

Drain the soaked chilis on paper towels, then add them, along with the olive oil, garlic and lemon juice to the food processor.

Pulse the mixture for about two minutes, until a smooth paste forms.

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