Since leaving the practice of law and plunging full time into the world of food, one of the things I find endlessly fascinating is how certain foods and food customs have worldwide appeal. One that immediately comes to mind is pasta, or noodles, which are enjoyed in too many countries to count. Another is the custom of serving meze, or appetizers — small dishes of food eaten at the start of a meal to stimulate one’s appetite.
Certainly, each of these topics is worthy of its own post with accompanying recipe (and as I write these words, ideas for future posts are already popping into my head). Today, however, I want to talk about the universal love of all things hot. Spicy hot, that is.
It’s undisputed that people love to add heat to food. Growing up in Oklahoma, one of the constants in our house was Tabasco sauce. I have to admit that I don’t actually remember using it on anything since, like most kids, I wasn’t particularly fond of foods that were overly spicy. Nevertheless, something must have sunk in because today I absolutely love anything with heat. Currently, my heat-promoting repertoire includes Tabasco, Sriracha, and Tapatío hot sauces, at least one Thai-style sweet chile sauce, chile-infused oils, jars of both Aleppo and Korean pepper flakes, and several kinds of dried chile peppers.
Recently, I ran across yet another option for inducing chile pepper nirvana. During a visit to a local grocery store, I discovered tubs of harissa, a paste made of chiles and spices that is believed to have originated in Tunisia but is now a staple of cuisines across all of North Africa and in some Middle Eastern countries as well. In this case, the harissa was the version used to top the rice and salad bowls sold at Cava Mezza Grill, a Washington D.C.-based chain of fast casual restaurants serving Greek-inspired foods in a salad bar-type assembly line similar to that used by Chipotle. Since I always opt for a dollop of harissa on my visits to Cava, trying it out at home was a no brainer.