I knew it existed, and still I ignored it until a while ago. I urge you not to do the same mistake. It is one of those ingredients that will spice up, quite literally, whatever food you are preparing.
Harissa is a red spicy paste from North africa. It contains chilli, grilled bell peppers, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin and other magical ingredients. The first harissa I consciously tried (I’m sure I had it in Lebanese restaurants, but this does not count, as its flavour was probably blended with whatever else I was eating), I made it myself using Ottolenghi’s recipe. It was veeeery good even if my starting ingredients were a bit bland (UK supermarket stuff level, if you want to know what I am talking about), but then, all Ottolenghi recipes are. However I decided it was not worth bothering doing it, unless on special occasions. Then I saw it ready-made in my local Middle East store, and I decided to give it a try. Can you picture that endless, diverse variety of sauces and condiments you have in your fridge and cupboard, those you use when you cook Mexican or Japanese or Thai style (or Italian, of course :)), and then ignore them for the rest of the week/month/year, until the due date is well due, or you move, or maybe you cook again xxx-style? I was ready and willing to add yet another ingredient to my almost endless list. I don’t mind them at all; actually I quite like spending half an hour looking for the tamarind paste in the bottom of the fridge whenever I need it – rarely, that is – and instead discovering in a corner that new miso paste (new a few months ago) I have not tried yet. And harissa was small, cheap and not very smelly, so it demanded little commitment on many sides.