How to make harissa (spicy North African red chili paste)

Photo Jul 05, 21 42 02Harissa – a red chili paste made of peppers, oil and spices like caraway – is one of the most popular condiments across North Africa. In Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, harissa is served as a dip alongside just about everything, from fish to cous cous to French bread.

For more on this amazing Maghrebian wonder sauce, see here.

Although it’s possible to find homemade (and squeeze-tubed) harissa in many grocery stores in the United Arab Emirates, it’s just as easy – if not better – to make it at home.

Here’s a simple recipe for very thick and very spicy harissa. Continue reading

How to find ‘Trees Can’t Dance’ in the Middle East

TCD-Sauces-72dpiFor Trees Can’t Dance lovers in Abu Dhabi, there’s good news and bad news.

First, the good news: this boutique brand of chili sauce is available to buy in the United Arab Emirates. Which is perhaps surprising, given that it’s produced in a small town of less than 4,000 people in northern England. Trees Can’t Dance hails from Haltwhistle in Northumberland (at the northernmost chili farm in the world), which isn’t exactly the type of tropical climate where chili peppers are able to grow let alone thrive.

Trees Can’t Dance produces several varieties of the fiery good stuff.

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How to find Tapatio in the Middle East

20140526-212421-77061225.jpgAs far as hot sauces go, Tapatio isn’t actually very hot. The American-made “salsa picante” only registers around 3,000 on the Scoville heat scale, which is about three times hotter than the very mild, yet similarly flavored, Cholula sauce.

But Tapatio is one of those all-purpose hot sauces that you should keep on hand in your kitchen.

Tapatio, which means ‘one who hails from Guadalajara,’ Mexico, (even though the sauce is actually produced in California), is an excellent companion spice for just about anything: salads, eggs, chicken and meat, nachos, etc. They even make Tapatio-flavored Doritos and Fritos.

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How to make salata hara (spicy Arabian salsa)

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Salata hara, or ‘hot salad’, is perhaps the most common condiment served with local food in the Persian Gulf.

Salata hara accompanies chicken, lamb, fish, and rice dishes to wash them down with a saucy kick.

It is very similar to Mexican fresh salsa, though the Arabian-style salata hara is made with green birds eye chili (or local, less spicy versions of a green chili) as opposed to jalapeno peppers. Salata hara also contains a few different spices.

But it’s just as easy to whip up as a Mexican salsa, provided you have a blender and some fresh vegetables on hand (you could very easily make this without a blender – slicing and dicing the vegetables – it will just take a little longer).

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How to make zhug (Yemeni hot sauce)

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One of the best hot sauces on the planet comes from Yemen, a nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

It’s called zhug, a fiery chili pepper paste that is both rich in flavor and spicy enough to require a tall glass of water on hand while eating. The main ingredient in zhug is the serrano, which can be a fairly hot chili depending on the individual pepper. The other two main flavors come from garlic – there is a lot of it in zhug – and cumin.

Zhug is starting to get more recognition on the international stage, though it’s already quite popular in the Middle East. It can be found at Yemeni restaurants across the region (see here, for example). It’s also very popular in Israel; zhug was brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews as they immigrated in the last half century. Today, zhug is a common condiment in Israeli street food, commonly spooned onto falafel and shwarma sandwiches.

Indeed, zhug goes well as a savory spread with just about anything: salads, chicken, meat, fish, eggs, and any type of sandwich or wrap. The only trouble is that its very difficult to find the green hot sauce for sale in grocery stores, especially outside of the Middle East.

So here is a simple, step-by-step illustrated recipe for making quick and easy batch of zhug at home with minimal ingredients.  Note: there are many, many ways to make zhug (some Yemenis, for example, blend mint leaves into the mix) – this is just one example.

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Indian street food in an Abu Dhabi shopping mall

20140417-185021.jpgYou don’t normally walk into a shopping mall food court expecting to find delicious, healthy food.

Especially if that mall is the Madinat Zayed Shopping Center, one of the oldest enclosed shopping malls in the United Arab Emirates. Madinat Zayed feels very long-in-the-tooth for an ultra-modern capital like Abu Dhabi. Aside from its dozens of Indian-run gold shops, the mall offers little for most shoppers. There are a few perfume kiosks and plenty of stores peddling cheap, Chinese-made electronics.

The mall’s second floor food court is home to several American-style burger joints, as well as the uninspiring Biryani Hut and ChicKing, where most of the food is deep-fried.

But Madinat Zayed, perhaps surprisingly, is also home to what is quite possibly the finest Indian restaurant in the entire Middle East.

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Harissa: North African chili in a squeeze tube

IMG_7696Harissa is a bright paste of red chilies, garlic, coriander, salt, and caraway. You can make it yourself or find it in supermarkets packaged in toothpaste-like tubes, cans, or pre-made at the deli counter. Appropriately, its name is based on the Arabic word for “to pound” or “to break into pieces” – now much more easily done to the chilies by food processor than the traditional mortar and pestle method.

Known mainly as Tunisian, it’s popularly used throughout North African cuisine, especially in Libya, Algeria, and Morocco. When peppers found their way to North Africa, probably via Spanish traders, the Tunisians made peppers an integral ingredient in their dishes. While the taste for harissa has spread to other parts of North Africa, it’s still Tunisian harissa that’s most widely known and considered the most traditional.

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How to find Cholula in the Middle East

Cholula is one of the best and most versatile hot sauces on the market.

Branded as the “flavorful fire,” Cholula isn’t actually all that fiery. The Mexican hot sauce registers a measly 1000 on the Scoville scale (a single jalapeño pepper can be up to ten times hotter).

But Cholula, with its blend of mild pequin and arbol peppers combined with herbs and vinegar, is a must-have for any pepper lover.  That little bottle with the famous wooden top goes well with just about anything – eggs, pizza, salads. Cholula is perfect when you want flavor and not a lot of burn.

The only problem with Cholula?  It’s hard to find outside of North America.

That’s where Fuddruckers comes in.

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