Some Tunisian Tastes – Part 1 – Steak With Harissa

You all know how much I love to eat international foods from all over the world. I love to eat all different kinds of ethnic foods in restaurants, but I really enjoy cooking them as authentically as I can in my own kitchen even more. In a way, it’s like traveling to far off, exotic lands all from the comfort of my own home and my own kitchen. Besides, it is mere pennies compared to what the actual travel costs would be. This time, my culinary travels took us to Tunisia.

Tunisia is a country in the Northern most part of Africa. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It is a country that has many foreign influences including those from France, Italy, the Andalusians, many different Arabic countries, and from all the countries that surround the Mediterranean. Like many countries in the Mediterranean basin, the Tunisian cuisine is heavily based on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, seafood and meat. Yet, it has a distinctive spiciness that differs it from surrounding cuisines. Tunisian cuisine varies from north to south, from the coast to the Atlas Mountains, from urban areas to the countryside, and along religious affiliations. Unlike other North African cuisines, Tunisian food is quite spicy. A popular condiment and ingredient which is used extensively in Tunisian cooking, harissa, which is a mix of ground chili peppers, garlic, and caraway[3] or spices commonly sold together as a paste. It is usually the most important ingredient in different sauces and gravies.

I made my own version of Tunisian harissa that I used as a topping for steak/roast.

First I marinated the roast with balsamic vinegar, coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper for about 3-4 hours before searing it and cooking it to a delicious medium rare. While the meat was marinating, I started making all the other Tunisian treats to make up the rest of the meal.

I am only going to share the harissa with you today. Harissa is a Tunisian staple, and like the foods of Morocco and Algeria, “the foods are a genuine, organic cross fertilization of flavors and ingredients”. (The New Steak, Cree Le Favor) You will just have to wait a bit for my other Tunisian tastes. Patience my friends. 🙂

Tunisian Harissa

As with many things that are popular in many different countries, there are always many different variations. These variations are regional. There is NEVER just one way to make anything. 🙂 I used jalapenos instead of Serrano chilies this time, only because I could not find the Serranos when I was looking for them. As I have said many times, use what you have and use what you like. Don’t stress yourself out if you can’t find certain ingredients. There are always things that can be substituted. Cooking is supposed to be fun. It’s NOT rocket science!

1 orange bell pepper

3 Serrano chilies or 1-2 jalapenos

olive oil

3 TBSP lemon olive oil

2 tsp garlic

1 tsp kosher or coarse salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp caraway seeds

1 tsp corriander

3 TBSP lemon juice or lemon balsamic vinegar

You can use either whole or ground spices. I tend to have more ground spices on hand than whole, and my dishes turn out just fine. Toast the spices first, for about 1-2 minutes, or until they become aromatic.

Roast the peppers and and bell pepper until they are completely charred, then let them sweat for about 30 minutes before peeling off the charred skins. Cut the peppers, remove all the seeds and rinse.

Throw everything into a food processor and pulse until it has been liquified. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

I liked it at room temperature, but hot, room temperature or cold, it is still delicious.

When you are ready to cook your steak, sear it for about 3 minutes per side, then continue to cook it longer as needed, depending on the thickness of the meat. This particular roast was very thick. So, after the 3 minutes per side, I seared it all around again, for about 1-2 minutes per side once more. You can do this on the stove or atop a grill. Let it rest for about 5-10 minutes before slicing. I LOVE a good medium rare steak, so for me, this was just perfect! It came out so flavorful and tender. It literally just melted in my mouth. YUM!

When the meat is done, add the harissa on top and serve. I served my harissa steak alongside some tri-colored couscous with peppers and a Tunisian carrot salad, pita bread and hummus, and of course, a very smooth red blend. It was so colorful and good, and definitely full of flavor.

Have a great day and make everyday great. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.


Author: ajeanneinthekitchen

I have worked in the restaurant and catering industry for over 35 years. I attended 2 culinary schools in Southern California, and have a degree in culinary arts from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, as well as a few other degrees in other areas. I love to cook and I love to feed people.

9 thoughts on “Some Tunisian Tastes – Part 1 – Steak With Harissa”

  1. I loved reading about your culinary travels to Tunisia! The description of Tunisian cuisine, especially the use of harissa, has made my mouth water. Your recipe for homemade harissa sounds delicious and I can’t wait to try it. One question I have is, what other Tunisian dishes did you make to complement the harissa steak? Thanks for sharing your experience and recipe with us!


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