Thursday, August 18, 2011

Canning Harissa

I will remember this summer as the summer I got serious about canning and preserving my own foods. (It will also be remembered as the summer we finally went camping. Like at a real campsite,  and not in our back yard, but that's a story for another post.)  I've been preserving small batches of jams and chutneys for a few years now, but it's time to diversify. So far, I've put up 3 different berry syrups and jams, pickled snap peas, BBQ sauce,  taco sauce, roasted tomato and chipotle salsa and harissa.  I recently purchased a pressure canner and I expect it will get a lot of use starting in the next couple of weeks.

I've enjoyed every single thing I've canned so far, but the harissa is my current favorite so I thought I'd share it with you.  The recipe comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It's not a traditional harissa because it contains tomatoes, sugar and vinegar. Their adaptation allows it to be canned in a water bath canner.  I'll admit, I  was skeptical. It initially tasted sweet and vinegary, but I'm happy to report that after just a couple of weeks on the shelf, it has mellowed out and tastes fantastic. It tastes great added to hummus, spread on a roast beef sandwich or drizzled with a good quality olive oil and used as a dip for bread and crackers.  It's also a good base for flavoring stews and such.   We like it so much, I'm planning to make more once my tomatoes and bell peppers ripen.

Harissa Sauce
adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Makes about six 8-oz jars

4 oz dried New Mexico chilies, seeded and stems removed (I used a mix of dried chilies)
4 cups (about 21 oz) chopped, seeded, cored and peeled plum tomatoes
2 cups (about 8.5 oz) chopped onions
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar (I cut down to 2/3 cup)
1 cup cider vinegar (white vinegar is okay too as long as it has 5% acidity)
1/2 cup (about 2.5 oz) chopped, seeded red bell pepper
3 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
4 tbs (about 2 oz) finely chopped garlic
salt to taste (the recipe calls for 1 tbs and I assume they mean canning salt, but I just used kosher)

Begin by soaking the chilies in hot water until they soften, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid. In a blender or food processor, blend the chilies with the garlic, salt and about 3 tbs of the soaking liquid. Blend until you achieve a uniform paste. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring the tomatoes, onions, sugar, vinegar, red pepper, cumin and coriander to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil gently, uncovered, until the mixture has the consistency of a thin tomato ketchup. (Don't worry if your mixture doesn't look like thin tomato ketchup. Mind didn't either. In any case, the recipe states this should take about 25 minutes.) Be sure to stir frequently to keep from scorching.

While the tomatoes are gently boiling away, prepare your canner, jars and lids. The jars don't need to be pre-sterilized (boiled), just keep them warm (about 180F) until they're ready to use. Same with the lids.

After the tomatoes have reached the correct consistency (or after 25 minutes), add the blended chili mixture to the tomato mixture. Season with salt.  Bring it all back up to a boil and continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Ladle the hot sauce into the hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Run a plastic knife down the sides to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, wet paper towel, then center lids on the jars. Screw on bands until they are "fingertip tight." Don't over tighten because air needs to be able to leave the jar and the seal sets up.

When you put the jars in the canner,  be sure they are completely covered with water with a couple of inches to spare. Put the lid on the canner and bring it up to a boil. Once it reaches a rolling boil, start timing. You'll want to process the jars for 10 minutes. After turning off the heat, let the jars sit in the canner for about 5 minutes, then remove them to cool.

Resist the urge to check the jars until they are completely cooled, otherwise they might not seal properly. After they've cooled, check the seals to make sure each jar has a good seal. If a jar isn't sealed, treat it like fresh food and put it in your  fridge.  It should probably be eaten within two weeks.  If you can hold off, let the canned product sit for a couple of weeks on the shelf before using.

Now that you have the harissa, you can try this North African inspired braised lamb shank. Meaty beef short ribs should work as well.  Or use skinless chicken hindquarters, if you prefer.

Here's what you'll need to feed 3 or 4:
2 meaty lamb shanks (or about 2.5 pounds of meat on the bone)
1 knob ginger (about 0.5 oz), minced or grated
1 onion, sliced or chopped
a few cloves garlic (basically to taste; I like lots)
1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches or so long)
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1/2 to 1 cup of your home-canned harissa
2 oz chopped dates or raisins (optional)
2 medium Chinese eggplant, cut into chunks (optional)
1 cup whole blanched, toasted almonds
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by searing off the lamb shanks in a Dutch oven or the like.  ( Better yet, use a pressure cooker! I almost always use my pressure cooker for braised dishes.) I like to dredge them in a little flour, but that's optional. Do make sure they are seasoned with salt and pepper.  When they are nice and brown, remove them to a plate until needed.

In the same pot, add a little more oil if necessary and saute the onions with ginger, cinnamon stick and cumin seed. When the onions start to soften and brown a little, add the garlic. Sautee for a couple more minutes.  Add the harissa and return the lamb shanks to the pot. Turn to coated the lamb shanks with the spice mixture.  Add about 1/2 cup of water if you are using a pressure cooker and about 1.5 to 2 cups of water if you are going to braise in a Dutch oven.

In a pressure cooker the lamb shanks need about 30 to 35 minutes (depending on size)  at 10 pounds pressure. If you are using the eggplant and dried fruit, after about 30 minutes, turn off the heat and carefully release the pressure. Add the eggplant and dried fruit and bring it back up to pressure. Cook for an additional 2 minutes at 10 pounds.

If you want to braise the shanks in a Dutch oven, it could take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on how low you like to do it. Turn the shanks every hour. About 30 minutes before the shanks are tender, add the eggplant and dried fruit.  Once the shanks are tender, I like to let them rest and cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. You may have to reduce the sauce if it's too thin.

Serve topped with the toasted almonds and couscous, rice, quinoa or a crusty bread on the side.


No comments: