Tangy fermented pepper paste, the base of Burns’ harissa, can be customized to be as sweet or spicy as you prefer. “Mine is usually in the middle,” she says. The sauce can be used immediately, but Burns says the leftovers will continue to improve in taste for up to 6 months and keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. Slow-cooking the short ribs at the oven’s lowest temperature, or in a low-heat dehydrator, ensures that the centers stay medium-rare. And a quick sear on a grill or grill pan delivers crispy edges.
What You Will Need
For the fermented pepper paste:
- 2 1⁄2 lb. sweet red peppers (or 2 lb. sweet and ½ lb. hot), stemmed and seeded
- 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. kosher salt
- For the harissa:
- 1 1⁄2 coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1 tsp. black peppercorns
- 1⁄2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp. sweet paprika
- 2 tsp. hot paprika
- 1⁄3 preserved lemon, seeded
- 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1⁄4 cup (1½ oz.) white onion or shallot, coarsely chopped
- 10 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1⁄2 bunch mint, tough stems removed
- 1⁄4 bunch dill, tough stems removed
- 1⁄4 bunch marjoram, tough stems removed
- 1⁄4 bunch flat-leaf parsley, tough stems removed
- 2 tsp. tomato paste
- 2 tsp. honey
- 2 tsp. dried ground mint (optional)
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. sumac powder
For the short ribs:
- 4 short ribs, cut crosswise against the bone, 1–1¼ inch thick
- Kosher salt
- 1⁄4 cup mayonnaise or aioli, for serving
- Fresh scallions, cilantro, or mint, for serving (optional)
- 1⁄4 cup capers, for serving (optional)
- Make the fermented pepper paste: In a high-powered blender, add the peppers and salt and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart jar, and place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface, pressing to dispel air and prevent mold growth. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Set in a clean, dark area with a temperature of 60–68° for 1 week, opening the jar and stirring the contents once daily. (Paste should taste gently sour after 1 week. Leave a few days longer, stirring daily, if needed.)
- Transfer the paste to a stainless-steel or glass baking dish and spread out to a 1-inch-thick layer. Transfer to a dehydrator set to 110° or an oven set to its lowest setting. Dry, stirring the paste once halfway through to prevent a skin from forming, until it thickens to the consistency of canned tomato paste, 10–16 hours. Refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to use.
- Make the harissa: In a spice grinder, combine the coriander, caraway, fennel, peppercorns, and cumin and process to a fine powder. In a small saucepan set over low heat, gently warm the oil. Add the ground spice mixture and the sweet and hot paprikas and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until very fragrant, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small food processor or blender, combine the preserved lemon, lemon juice, onion, garlic, mint, dill, marjoram, and parsley, and process to a coarse paste.
- Remove the pot with the oil from the heat, then whisk the herb mixture into the spiced oil. Return the pot to low heat to warm slightly, then whisk in the prepared pepper paste, the tomato paste, honey, dried mint if using, the salt, and the sumac powder. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and process until a relatively smooth and emulsified harissa forms.
- Prepare the short ribs: Sprinkle meat generously all over with salt, then rub with ½ cup of the prepared harissa. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate for 12–24 hours.
- Set a dehydrator to 125° or preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Add the short ribs and cook until the meat is dry to the touch and reaches an internal temperature of 125°, 4–5 hours.
- Preheat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Remove the short ribs and transfer to the grill; cook, turning as needed, until charred on the outside, 2–4 minutes total.
- In a small serving bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the remaining harissa and ¼ cup mayonnaise or aioli; stir well.
- Slice the ribs between the bones. Top with fresh or charred scallions, cilantro, or mint and sprinkle with capers if desired. Serve immediately.