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HARISSA IS HOT, and not just because of the chilies in this spicy paste. It’s also wildly popular, showing up on the best menus around town. At The Whale Wins, roasted carrots are covered with harissa and yogurt. At his restaurants, chef Matt Dillon adds it to hummus, douses squid with it and even sells it at The London Plane.

Originally from Tunisia, harissa is made of dried chilies, peppers and spices. A key element in North African cuisine, harissa found its way to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures and eventually to the Northwest. Chefs turn to the condiment to add flavor to everything from dressings to meat dishes.

Sarah Lorenzen, executive chef at Andaluca Restaurant, relies on harissa for her Mediterranean food. Displeased with inconsistent harissa products from her supplier — “we couldn’t get the sweet-hot quality right” — they decided to make their own.

Lorenzen makes harissa with guajillo and pasilla chilies, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon and whole-seed spices. It makes a big splash on the menu, appearing in the orange vinaigrette, in butter to finish paella, and in sauces for pork tenderloin and chorizo-clam pasta. Lorenzen says harissa adds pizazz to cocktail sauce, ketchup and mayonnaise, too. A personal favorite? Mixing it with mayo on a turkey sandwich.

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To make harissa at home, don’t be daunted by the ingredient list. With a little planning, you can easily make this popular, versatile paste. Why not add more spice to your life?

Roasted Vegetables with Harissa Butter

Serves 6 as a side dish

2 cups each yams, carrots, parsnips and gold beets, peeled and cut in large dice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

¼ cup harissa paste (recipe below)

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on sheet pan, spreading them out well. Roast for about 20-25 minutes, until brown around the edges and tender when poked with a fork.

3. When vegetables are nearly done, heat a saute pan on medium-high heat and add butter. When melted and foamy, add garlic and briefly sauté, then add harissa paste and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Add hot vegetables to saute pan and mix well to coat. Add more salt and pepper, if needed. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley and serve.

Harissa Paste

Makes about 1 pint

2 cups water

4 each dried guajillo and pasilla chilies (found at specialty stores or Mexican grocers)

½ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted then ground

½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted then ground

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted then ground

4 teaspoons kosher salt

3 garlic cloves, smashed

¼ cup roasted red bell pepper

½ cup chili water, retained after soaking chilies

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes

½ cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1. In a small pot, bring water to a boil. When it boils, remove from heat and submerge chilies in the water and soak 10-15 minutes.

2. While chilies are softening, toast the seeds in a small pan over medium heat until fragrant. Cool, then grind with mortar and pestle or with clean coffee grinder.

3. Drain chilies, reserving ½ cup of the liquid. Remove any stems.

4. Place chilies, spices and chili water in blender or food processor and blend until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

5. Place harissa in clean container and refrigerate. Will keep up to one month.

— recipes courtesy of Sarah Lorenzen, Andaluca Restaurant

Catherine M. Allchin is a Seattle freelance writer. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.