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Quick cheats: harissa paste

Georgina Hayden shows how to boost your basics and transform simple midweek meals into masterpieces

This fantastically versatile and punchy paste hails from North Africa. Now, thankfully, it’s found in almost all supermarkets and delis. Made from roasted chillies, peppers, garlic and a blend of spices, it can transform most dishes. And while it is laced with spices, it isn’t always hot — the heat intensity can differ between brands, so try a little on the tip of a spoon before adding it to a recipe.

I always have a jar or tube in my cupboard, and use it not only in cooking but in cold dishes, too — it adds a welcome kick when rippled through yoghurt served on the side of a larger meal. With summer on the way, you can use it in marinades for meat or fish for the barbecue; it’s also a great way of pimping up butters. Look out for different types of harissa: there are pastes, rubs and interesting flavours such as verbena and rose. You can make your own, too.

Harissa paste + sea bass/mint/bulgur = punchy fish

Rose harissa would work really well with this.

2 people

30 minutes


  • 100g bulgur wheat
  • Olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ bunch of mint
  • ½ bunch of flat-leaf parsley


  • 1 clove of garlic
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 40g butter, at room temperature
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 x 120g sea bass fillets

Place the bulgur wheat in a medium pan and cover with plenty of salted boiling water. Bring back to the boil, simmer for 15 minutes, then drain completely. Spoon into a bowl, season, drizzle with oil, then add the lemon zest and juice. Toss together and leave. Pick the mint and parsley leaves, finely chop and keep to one side. Roughly chop the parsley stalks.

02 Peel and roughly chop the garlic and place in a mini chopper with the cumin seeds, parsley stalks and harissa. Halve the preserved lemon, remove the pips and add that also. Blitz it all with a lug of oil, then add the butter and pulse with a pinch of salt and pepper.

03 Peel and finely chop the red onion. Place a large frying pan on a medium heat, add a little oil, then sauté the onion for 10 minutes. When ready, push to the edges of the pan and add the harissa butter. Add the sea bass, skin side down, and turn the heat up to medium. Fry for 8 minutes, until the skin is crispy and the sea bass is almost cooked through, then turn over for 2-3 minutes, until perfect.

04 Stir the herbs through the bulgur, check the seasoning, then serve with the fish and drizzle with the buttery harissa juices.
Harissa paste + lamb/ras el hanout/honey = spicy chops

2 people

30 minutes


  • 300g carrots
  • 6 sprigs of coriander
  • 2 spring onions
  • 30g rocket
  • ½ orange


  • 6 lamb cutlets, french trimmed
  • 1½ tbsp harissa paste
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 flatbreads
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • Greek yoghurt, to serve

Peel the carrots and then continue to peel into ribbons, straight into a large mixing bowl. Finely chop the coriander, stalks and all, and trim and finely slice the spring onions. Add it all to the bowl along with the rocket and season well. Keep to one side.

02 Season the lamb cutlets with a good pinch of salt and pepper and rub in the harissa paste and ras el hanout. Place a large frying pan on a medium heat, drizzle in a little olive oil and cook the lamb for 2 minutes on each side. This will give you pink lamb, so cook them a little longer if you don’t like your meat too pink.

03 While the lamb is cooking, squeeze the orange juice into the salad, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss well. Season to taste.

04 Heat the flatbreads over a hob flame for 30 seconds each, or in a hot oven (in foil) for a few minutes. When the lamb is ready, finish by drizzling over the honey, remove from the heat and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve with the dressed salad and some Greek yoghurt on the side.

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