Datil & Lemon Harissa

Harissa is one of my favorite condiments. This thick, spicy paste has so many uses! Add a dollop to a bowl of beans, mix it with a little mayo as a dip for sweet potato oven fries, slather a chicken in it before roasting, add it to potato salad… it’s like ketchup’s infinitely sexier cousin that everyone wants to dance with at parties. I made it twice last year and ran out before Yule, so this summer I need to make at least double that amount, plus some to trade at the upcoming Food Swap.

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Chile powder is the traditional base for harissa, but I love the subtle fruity-sweet flavor and brightness when it’s made with fresh chiles. I’d always made my harissa with ripe red chiles like cayennes and jalapenos, but this weekend at the farmers market one farmer had some small baskets of bright yellow datil peppers and those chiles stopped me in my tracks. Datil peppers are our regional chile. Most of the datil peppers in America are grown in North Central Florida between Gainesville and St. Augustine, due east of here. There’s even a Datil Pepper Festival.

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There’s an extra-special ingredient in this batch- I used the coriander seeds that I grew and dried myself!

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Datil & Lemon Harissa

about 4 dozen fresh datil peppers
1/2 of a whole lemon, chopped and juices reserved
4 cloves fresh garlic, smashed
1/4 c sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 tbl ground cumin
2 tbl ground coriander
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cubebs or fresh ground black pepper
1/2- 3/4 c olive oil

First comes the only time-consuming part of this recipe. Find yourself a comfy chair with a back and a small sharp knife. Cut the stem off each chile. Cut it in half lengthwise. Carefully slide the tip of a knife under each of the three white ribs and slice the ribs and seeds off the chiles. This reduces the heat of the chiles considerably and allows more of the fruity notes to shine through. If you have  latex or nitrile gloves, use them! I did not and 24 hours and much hand-washing later, the skin under my fingernails is still burning. It took me about 45 minutes to trim the ribs and seeds off all the chiles. Roughly chop the chiles and discard the ribs and seeds.

Combine half of each ingredient- chiles through cubebs- in a blender. Add a scant 1/4 c of oil and pulse until the mixture starts coming together, then blend on low/puree until a smooth paste is formed. You can add more oil or water if needed. Refrigerate for at least two days for the flavors to meld and then adjust salt if necessary.

This stuff is HOT! If you want less-hot harissa with the flavor of the datils, replace half the volume of datil peppers with a yellow bell pepper.