Transform Rice And Bean Dinners With One Canned Ingredient

Filling, warm, and downright convenient, rice and beans are an undisputed staple in households all across the world. From the beloved red beans and rice of the American South to the popular feijoada dish in Brazil, it's a winning combination that crosses cultures. Even in the Middle East, where the cuisine is known more for grains like couscous and beans in the form of spreads, you'll find iterations of the pairing. Meals like mujadarra and fasooli feature their own variations, taking white beans, lentils, vermicelli, long grain, or basmati rice and pairing them with spices that are iconic to the region.

It makes sense that when Michael Solomonov, Israeli chef and owner of the James Beard Awarded restaurant, Zahav, was asked by Bon Appétit how he'd transform the dish, he chose an ingredient that brought all of those flavors to the forefront. Harif, otherwise known as harissa, is a well-known ingredient across the Middle East and North Africa. But few are familiar with how versatile it really is. Made from a combination of warm spices, extra virgin olive oil, bright citrus, and, of course, chilies, harissa provides a shocking hit of heat that makes it the perfect complement to your everyday rice and beans.

Different combinations of harissa spices and where to get it

Native to North Africa, harissa combines all of the spices that the region's souks are so famous for. Like so many other foods of the region, however, the exact recipe can vary depending on where you are and who makes it. At its core, harissa is a chili paste — and the most authentic kind always begins with a base of chili de arbol peppers, whether they're fresh or dried, and sweet red bell peppers. The kinds of spices and how much of each depends on taste preference, but you'll almost always find a blend of coriander, and cumin, along with any variation of spices like paprika, caraway, cayenne, or bay leaves. 

While it's fairly easy to make at home, you can purchase harissa at most grocery stores. Depending on how many red bell peppers are used, the sauce can vary in heat, so keep that in mind when you're shopping. That hot punch of chilies, along with the rich array of fragrant spices, however, is what's going to transform your rice and beans. But that's not all. Harissa works fabulously on everything from your morning eggs to your salmon, sirloin steak, and even your beef pot roast.