When I first moved to New York, I quickly developed a love for gyros, eating at least 3–4 a week for the entire first year that I lived here. Most gyros here are served by street vendors with hot sauce and “white sauce” (a mystery sauce that’s sort of vinegary and definitely isn’t Tzatziki, but no one really knows what it is, so it’s just called “white sauce”) on top, in a more North African/Middle Eastern version of the gyro than the Greek version that most Americans are familiar with. When I’ve tried to replicate these on my own before, I’ve never been able to get a hot sauce that tastes as good as the sauce you get from street vendors, so I was psyched when I saw this harissa, knowing that it would probably be pretty close to what I was used to getting from street carts. Harissa, if you’re not familiar, is a paste made from chili peppers. While it’s not actually a sauce, it does have a similar flavor to a Middle Eastern hot sauce.
I whipped up some Trader Joe’s Gyro Slices to make myself a gyro from these, and slathered on a rather generous helping of the Traditional Tunisian Harissa. I thought I was going to breathe fire when I bit into it. Make no mistake, this Harissa is HOT. My eyes might start watering just thinking about it. I should have known to take it easy since it’s not actually a SAUCE, but a PASTE, and therefore is much more concentrated. I ended up whipping quite a bit off of the gyro, but once I got it down to a reasonable amount, I’m happy to say that I really loved this stuff! It is indeed an acceptable substitute for the hot sauce used at street carts. I’m sure there’s a way to actually turn this into a sauce by pureeing it with something else, but I don’t think I’m going to be quite that dedicated to figuring it out.
This goes great with gyros, but could also go great mixed with cream cheese or goat cheese and used as a dip, on sandwiches (maybe mixed with mayo to temper its spiciness), mixed with chickpeas, or with eggs. And since the stuff is so strong, you can probably make one jar last a long time. I’ve used it several times already and when I open the jar it doesn’t even look like any of it’s been used since I’ve used so little each time.