The last rose of the season …
I was never a huge fan of roses. I never understood the fanatical devotion to a flower, the almost mystical allure it held for some people. That is, until I bought a house with a garden filled with heritage roses. I have 11 different types of roses growing in my yard, each one a different colour, each one with a different, intoxicating scent and flavour. My yard smells like heaven in July and August and pretty much every one of our summer wedding menus features a dish with my roses. I love baking with roses, I love garnishing with roses, I love rose petal jellies and rose petal syrups and rose petal bitters and … well, you get the picture. My first rose pops open in early June and my last one just dropped its final petals – right into my rose petal harissa.
Harissa is a Tunisian hot sauce or paste, which can vary between regions and countries – some feature all chiles (dry and fresh), some feature peppers and tomatoes, some feature rose petals, and pretty much all feature garlic and a variety of spices. My favourite version, which I’ve adapted to suit my own tastes, features a combination of dried chilies and fire roasted fresh chiles with rose petals. I use harissa in almost everything once it’s made, from scrambled eggs to shakshuka to pan fried salmon to grilled cheese sandwiches. For those of you lucky enough to have roses in your garden, there’s still a few hanging on, get out there and pick them! For those of you who don’t have access to roses, this recipe works without them – you can also substitute rose water to get some of that floral component. Make sure the roses that you use are not sprayed with any toxic chemicals and PLEASE don’t buy them from the store because you don’t know what they’ve been treated with. This is one of those lovely dishes that is truly seasonal.
Rose Petal Harissa
Yields approximately 1 pint
4 oz dried chiles (I use guajillo and pasilla) – reserve the chile water
6 serrano chilies
2 tbsp whole cumin, toasted and ground
1/4 cup whole caraway, toasted and ground
1/4 cup whole coriander, toasted and ground
1 tbsp, whole fennel, toasted and ground
1 full bulb of garlic
2 oz rose petals (it looks like a lot)
1/4 cup lemon juice and lemon zest
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp chile water (see above)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste
Place the dry chiles in a pot of water and simmer until tender; submerge for about an hour before using. Don’t discard the chile water! Strain the chiles and set aside.
Meanwhile, on a barbecue, in an oven, or best of all, over a charcoal fire, grill/roast the serrano chiles until blackened. If you don’t want a super hot harissa, seed and stem the chiles, but I use the whole thing.
In a blender or food processor, place the rehydrated chiles, the fresh chiles, spices, garlic, rose petals, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and chile water mix until you get a paste. With the motor running, add the olive oil and season with salt to taste.
Store in the fridge for up to 2 months; keep the top of the harissa covered with a thin layer of olive oil as you use it in order to keep it from drying out.