Ever since the sriracha plant in California was ordered to close its doors in 2013, American dining has never been the same. It’s become almost mandatory that restaurants have a bottle of sriracha on hand, right next to the ketchup and mustard. You can find honey-sriracha glazed wings, sriracha vinaigrette, and even sriracha infused cocktails at bars throughout the country. We totally get it: the condiment is infinitely better than regular hot sauce, has a complex — not to mention delicious — taste, and is spicy, but not too spicy. And sriracha’s versatility only increases its appeal (we’ve seen people put it on everything from rice to veggies to eggs). But lately, we’ve been (gasp!) feeling a little sriracha fatigue. So we explored our options…and found a little known spicy sauce that’s quietly giving our old favorite a run for its money.
Enter harissa, the chili pepper paste that’s popping up in kitchens and restaurants across the country.
It’s popular in Mediterranean cooking, and is a substitute for ketchup in places like Morocco and Tunisia. It’s about time that harissa was introduced to the American palate, considering it’s made with some of our favorite ingredients — roasted red peppers, hot chili peppers, olive oil, cumin, garlic, and loads of other fragrant spices. Think of harissa as a spicier, smokier hummus that you can spread on buns and toast in the morning, and meat and potatoes in the evening. We love that it’s as versatile as sriracha, but has a distinct flavor that culinary researcher Maeve Webster describes as “both spicy and familiar.”
Though it’s still a little elusive, jars of harissa can be found at Whole Foods. Mix it with a lemon juice for an instantly delightful lunchtime salad. Toss it with roasted vegetables or chickpeas for a fiery little kick. Thinking about making a meal of it? Check out this recipe for yogurt harissa marinated chicken (it even includes the steps to make your own piquant paste)!
No matter how you decide to try harissa, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed. And while it may not be as prevalent as other hot sauces now, get ready for the harissa takeover (we’re looking at you, sriracha). Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
-by Nicole Piquant