Food Artisans: Mina Harissa

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[Photograph: Stephanie Klose]

What ketchup is to the States, salsa is to Mexico, and chimichurri is to Argentina, the red pepper-based sauce harissa is to Morocco: the national condiment that can be found in almost every household and is eaten with a wide range of foods.

"I use our harissa on everything and anything savory," says Mina Kallamni of Mina Harissa. "It can be used as a sauce, dip, spread or drizzled on top of nearly any dish. In the mornings I have it with my egg whites or I just put a few tsp on a small plate with some Moroccan olives and olive oil and use it as a dip for my baguette."

Mina's son, Fouad, explains that his mother went to cooking school in Paris before moving to New York and becoming a personal chef. When she started thinking about what to do with her retirement, she realized that there was no harissa on the market that would appeal to mainstream America. "The only ones for sale were in a tube with Arabic writing, and they were oily and pasty," Fouad says. "They were a little alienating, not so user friendly."

Though an oily, spreadable paste is the traditional form of harissa, Mina realized that changing the texture would make it more useful as a condiment for Americans. So she added a bit more olive oil, vinegar, and garlic, keeping the basic pepper flavor, but rendering it as a product that could easily be used as a dip or drizzled onto foods.

Both the spicy and mild versions of their harissa have been so successful, Fouad explains, that they're introducing several new products this year. First up is a green version of harissa made with green chilies and fragrant Moroccan cumin. Mina says that the harissas can be used interchangeably, depending on personal preference, but that she especially likes the green harissa with grilled meats.

They also have planned to start selling tfaya, caramelized onions with raisins and saffron; the spiced eggplant salad called zaalouk; argan oil, which is consumed widely in Morocco, but is known in the States mostly for its cosmetic uses; several spice blends; and what Fouad describes as "a very special olive oil" from an ancient grove in Morocco.

Mina believes that the time is right for a resurgence of Moroccan cuisine in America, and that her products can help home cooks recreate dishes they've previously only had in restaurants. "Moroccan food is distinguished by rich spices, sauces, aromas, stews, grains, and vegetables," she explains, "It's engaging and fun. It's a well-rounded cuisine where I think everyone can find something they enjoy."

About the author: Stephanie Klose has more mustard than you. You can follow her on twitter at @sklose.

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