Alex Guarnaschelli’s Harissa Is the Only Hot Sauce You’ll Ever Need

01/12/2016 at 11:16 AM ET

Alex G
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli/Inset: Kevin L

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

I really love hot sauce. In almost every restaurant in America, there is a stash of homemade hot sauce. It usually represents the tapestry of different cultures that often converge beautifully in a professional kitchen.

I have doused pasta, eggs and meat with some of the most beautiful hot sauces over the years. It is the little “spark plug” for cooks to make their food taste special.

If you cook all day long, how does food you eat have any taste? Good question. You need something that packs a punch! In general, I am partial to the magic of dried chili peppers: ancho or pasilla. Once hydrated, the way they impart flavor and provide natural thickness is stunning. Their heat can be mellow and unfold slowly. Sometimes I make an exception for a sauce that has a lovely combination of spices.

RELATED: Alex Guarnaschelli’s Essential Recipe: Homemade Caesar Salad Dressing

This hot sauce recipe is one of my favorites. Harissa is a North African chili pepper sauce, spicy! It gets better and better the longer it sits in your fridge. I sometimes forget I have a jar of it and love coming across it when looking for something to give a little zing to dinner.

The condiment comes together in two parts: The first is spices that are bloomed in butter. The second part is the vegetables (peppers and zucchini) that cook down with the cayenne and mustard providing the body and thickness of the sauce. One note: The paprika and cayenne can create a decent heat factor. If you want this mellower, simply omit. The coriander, mustard and peppers all provide really beautiful flavors.

The thing is, you don’t have to eat it straight and make it a super spicy bite of food. Put a little bit into a tomato soup or your cooking liquid from some steamed mussels. Put a “dot” into a salad dressing or a sauce for meat or fish. Sometimes that little tingle of heat can make food taste so much more delicious without being too spicy.

It’s also great with just vegetables—grilled leeks in particular. You can also simply split the leeks lengthwise and roast them on a tray in the oven if grilling is not an option. Try drizzling the harissa on fried or scrambled eggs. Or try it with artichoke hearts, roasted carrots or roasted potatoes for a winning combination.

RELATED : Alex Guarnaschelli’s Bananas Foster Is the Dessert You’ve Been Waiting For

Alex Guarnaschelli’s Harissa

½ stick unsalted butter
¼ cup whole coriander seeds, crushed
1 tbsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp. yellow sesame seeds
1 tbsp. Spanish paprika
1 tbsp. mustard powder
Kosher salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
5 large garlic cloves
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
Insides scraped from 1 large green zucchini
2 red bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp. smooth Dijon mustard
1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1. Bloom the spices: Heat a large sauté pan and melt the butter. Do not brown the butter. Add the coriander, cumin, sesame, paprika, mustard powder and a pinch of salt. Heat the spices until they start to sizzle, 1-2 minutes. Watch so they don’t burn. Simmer gently. Shut off heat.

2. Prepare the vegetables: In another pan, warm the oil, garlic and cayenne over low heat. Stir in the zucchini flesh, peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are completely tender, 12-15 minutes. Stir in the mustard and red wine vinegar. In the bowl of the food processor, combine the butter-toasted spices with the vegetables and pulse to blend until somewhat smooth. There should be a little bit of chunky texture to it. If the mix is too thick, add a splash of water while blending. Refrigerate at least a day or two before eating.

RELATED: Jessica Alba on Her Love of Hot Sauce: ‘It’s Like I’m Trying to Burn a Hole Through My Stomach’

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The Latest Craze in Disco Styles Is See-Through Jeans—but Beware of Foggy Bottoms


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The Latest Craze in Disco Styles Is See-Through Jeans—but Beware of Foggy Bottoms

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On a clear day, you can see forever—or at least that’s the wicked thought behind L.A. designer Agi Berliner’s transparent idea: see-through jeans. Exhibitionists notwithstanding, most folks wear them over bathing suits or as attention-getting evening wear with halters, garter belts and body stockings. Created for the disco crowd, the $34 jeans are selling like, well, hot pants. In just six weeks, 25,000 pairs have already been sold in such major department store chains as Macy’s, Bonwit’s and Saks.

“What’s limiting American designers is that we’re afraid to do something different,” says Berliner, 32, a Hungarian émigré who fled with her family to the U.S. in 1956. Agi thought up the gimmick in London while marveling at the way plastics were being employed by designers of punk fashion. In her L.A. office, where she designs for La Parisienne junior sportswear, Agi spent five days on the phone and six weeks testing to come up with the right plastic.

Agi herself tried out the French-cut jeans with the zipper in front, and quickly found several problems: Some plastics tore away from stitching, others wouldn’t bend and all fogged with perspiration. The ideal material proved to be a vinyl supplied by a bookbinder. The steam was eliminated with a series of vents behind the knees and in the crotch. “They’re no hotter than polyester pants,” claims Agi, “and if you wear them with tights, they won’t stick to your legs.”

Whatever the discomfort and despite the problem of Saturday night feverishness, discomaniacs report one major advantage of the plastic pants: no laundry bills. To keep Berliner’s see-through jeans clear, all the wearer needs is a little Windex.

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