Silk Roads: Harissa Rice

Music Pairing: SilkRoad w/Yo-Yo Ma, Wedding


As in our family, in our kitchen, we blend cultures.  For those of you who may not know, Aaron comes from blended heritage that encompasses Black, White, Jewish, Irish, English, Black/American (Jehovah’s Witness) roots.  Afa’s family is Eastern/Persian (Mountain) Jewish and Azeri.  So, spicy spinach latkes and curry macaroni and cheese are totally normal for usJ.  We also get deeply inspired by learning about cultures and our passions are expressed through food.  This relatively recent gem comes to you from an inspiration that has been ongoing for us: we reimagine rice on a constant basis.  Here, we thought about making a standalone rice dish that looks at its flavors from the standpoint of cultural anthropology/geography. At this core, this dish encompasses elements from Silk Road hubs: the rice itself  (likely from Southern China), the harissa paste (from Rabat/Morocco), the Aleppo pepper (from Syria), garlic (Central Asia/possibly Bukhara) and so forth.  The city in which Afa grew up (Baku) was a stop on the Silk Road route, as well, and as such is home to many of the flavors you may taste here.  Of course, the roads, or trajectories of how these ingredients have moved and the influence upon its various adopted “home” communities are fascinating and profound.  Many of the ingredients have also been known to have both mythical and tangible medicinal attributions throughout history (e.g., spicy peppers may be useful for our immune system and garlic conceivably helping to combat a cold).  We pair this recipe with the music of the Silk Road Ensemble, which imagines a more hopeful and inclusive world through artistic collaboration (it is a brain child of one of our artistic heroes and mentors, Yo-Yo Ma).  This recipe, like the music with which it is paired, helps us express our common joy of humanity through a blending of tastes and sensations.


For the Harissa paste

  • 4-5 dried chili peppers (de arbol, if possible)
  • 1 Tbsp (heaping) cumin seeds 
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 

And the rest:

  • 1 cup white basmati rice, cooked
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup toasted cashews
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • ½ cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


Harissa paste (perfectly fine to use store-bought, as an alternative)

  1. Rehydrate the peppers in hot water for an hour
  2. Add all harissa ingredients to the food processor and blend It together for about 5 minutes (using the pulse function)
  3. Set aside

The Rice, etc.

  1. Rinse your rice thoroughly in cold water
  2. Boil it using 1×2 rice water ratio for 25 minutes (or steam it, if preferred)
  3. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat, adding the onions and cashews
  4. Add the rice, followed by the spices.  Mix together well.
  5. Add the Harissa paste (for 1 cup of rice, use 2 tablespoons of your fresh harissa paste)
  6. Cook together thoroughly, stirring well
  7. Garnish with cilantro and enjoy in great company of friends or strangers you just met!

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