Early harvest olive oil and harissa paste are two intensely flavored ingredients that can transform dishes when used together. Early harvest olive oil contributes a bold, peppery punch while harissa paste brings the heat with red chiles and North African spices. Combining these powerhouse ingredients unlocks a world of flavor to liven up everything from eggs to grilled meats, salads, and more. Read on to learn all about maximizing flavor with this dynamic duo.
What Makes Early Harvest Olive Oil So Special
Origin and Production
Early harvest or early pressed olive oil is made from green, unripe olives pressed soon after harvest. This generally happens between October and December depending on the region. The olives are picked early and pressed as quickly as possible to capture their fresh, grassy flavors before fruitiness develops. Cold pressing and minimal processing preserves these vibrant flavors.
Compared to later harvest oils, early harvest olive oils have a greener color and more peppery, bitter, pungent taste. They showcase the grassiness of the raw olive fruit before it ripens. There are also higher levels of antioxidants like polyphenols that contribute bitterness and health benefits. The overall flavor is extremely lively, sometimes with a bite reminiscent of arugula or radish.
The bold flavor of early harvest oil makes it perfect for drizzling over salads, soups, and bruschetta or pairing with heartier foods that can stand up to its punch. The intensity and antioxidants also make early harvest oils great for high heat cooking and frying. Standout varieties include Arbequina, Coratina, and Picual.
The Flavor Bomb Known as Harissa Paste
Origins in North Africa
Harissa paste originated in Tunisia, though it is popular across North Africa and the Middle East. It is made from smoked hot chiles, garlic, spices like coriander and caraway, olive oil, and often tomatoes or tomato paste. Recipes vary by region, household, and chef. The paste can be coarse or silky smooth depending on preparation.
Flavor and Heat
Harissa showcases the incredible depth and heat of chiles. Different pepper varieties like Aleppo, ancho, and New Mexico add their own personality. Smoking the chiles adds even more complexity. Garlic, coriander, caraway and olive oil create a layered backdrop. Harissa can range from mild with a slow burn to searingly hot.
A little harissa goes a long way in adding heat and soul to dishes. It is commonly used as a condiment, sauce, marinade, or cooking ingredient. You’ll find it in tagines, couscous, stews, dressings, sandwiches, eggs, and meat rubs. A range of harissa varieties are widely available so you can choose your preferred flavor and heat level.
Cooking with Early Harvest Olive Oil and Harissa Paste
Breakfast: Harissa Eggs with Olive Oil Fried Bread
For a morning wake-up call, fry eggs in early harvest olive oil with a teaspoon of harissa stirred into the yolk. The rich, jammy egg with a touch of heat pairs perfectly with olive oil fried bread for dipping and soaking up the sauce.
Appetizer: Harissa Hummus Swirled with Olive Oil
Blend chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and harissa paste for a spicy twist on hummus. Then drizzle with early harvest olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and pine nuts. Serve with grilled pita.
Salad: Harissa Roasted Carrots and Olive Oil Farro
Toss carrot sticks with olive oil and harissa then roast until caramelized. Mix with farro cooked in early harvest olive oil, arugula, feta, and lemon. The spicy carrots liven up the hearty grains.
Soup: Harissa Lentil Soup with Olive Oil Croutons
Simmer lentils, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, coriander and harissa for a warming, highly flavored soup. Finish with a drizzle of fresh early harvest olive oil and top with crunchy croutons.
Sandwich: Harissa Chicken with Olive Oil Aioli
Marinate chicken in harissa, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Grill the spicy chicken and place on bread spread with an early harvest olive oil lemon aioli. Cooling and creamy but still plenty of flavor.
Meat: Harissa and Olive Oil Lamb Chops
Rub lamb chops with a blend of harissa, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and mint. Grill until medium rare then let rest before serving. The crispy crust pairs perfectly with the rich juicy lamb.
Seafood: Harissa Shrimp Sautéed in Olive Oil
Sauté shrimp in early harvest olive oil on high heat until browned. Add tomato, onion, garlic, harissa paste and a splash of white wine. Toss until cooked through and sauce is thickened. Serve over couscous.
Vegetable: Harissa Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Olive Oil
Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt, harissa paste, and garlic. Roast at 400F until browned and tender. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and extra drizzle of early harvest olive oil.
Side: Olive Oil Roasted Potatoes with Harissa Yogurt
Roast cubed potatoes with olive oil, cumin, paprika and garlic. In a bowl, combine Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and harissa paste. Use as a spicy dip for the crispy potatoes.
Sauce: Harissa Olive Oil Vinaigrette
Whisk together harissa paste, olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle over greens, grains, fish and more to add a kick of flavor.
Tips for Buying and Storing
Look for Quality
With both early harvest olive oil and harissa, quality ingredients make a major difference. For olive oil, look for cold pressed extra virgin from a reputable producer. Check the harvest date. For harissa, look for brands that use high quality dried chiles, North African spices, and extra virgin olive oil.
Know What to Avoid
Steer clear of olive oils with ambiguous labels or packaged in clear bottles. For harissa, avoid jars with additives and preservatives. Homemade can be incredible if you have access to great chiles. But quality commercial brands can be excellent as well.
Once opened, store early harvest olive oil and harissa paste in the refrigerator to maintain freshness. The cold will cause olive oil to solidify but it re-liquefies at room temperature. For optimal flavor, aim to use them within several months.
Creative Flavor Combinations
Don’t limit these powerhouse ingredients to savory cooking. Here are some sweet and stunning ways to use early harvest olive oil and harissa too:
- Whip harissa into chocolate ganache for a spicy twist on truffles
- Swirl harissa into olive oil cake or chocolate cake batter before baking
- Use fruity early harvest olive oil to make harissa frozen yogurt
- Add a teaspoon of harissa to olive oil brownies for heat and complexity
- Make harissa honey by whisking harissa paste into early harvest olive oil and honey
- Drizzle spicy harissa olive oil over ice cream or fresh fruit
Early harvest olive oil and harissa paste are two intensely flavored ingredients that create magic together in the kitchen. The peppery olive oil balances out and enhances the complex heat of the harissa. This dynamite duo punches up everything from eggs to meat, salad, sandwiches and more. With quality ingredients and creative combinations, you can unlock a world of flavors.