A North African staple, harissa is a spicy sauce or condiment made with chiles. Learn how to make harissa paste at home in 30 minutes using a handful of ingredients. You can use harissa to spice up almost any dish!
I love making condiments at home because I can control the level of heat and the spices that go into it. Some of my favorite staples are toum (garlic sauce), ezme and tahini sauce. This harissa paste recipe is a constant in our home and now that I have perfected the recipe, I cannot wait to share it with you.
Table Of Contents:
What Is Harissa?
Harissa is a North African spicy chile pepper paste with endless uses. Originated in Tunisia, harissa is a common ingredients all around North Africa including Morocco, Algeria and Libya. This sauce is originally made with baklouti peppers that are available in Tunisia. However, we have developed the recipe using guajillo peppers that are fairly close to the baklouti peppers in flavor.
What does harissa taste like? It has a slight smoky and sweet flavor with spicy notes coming from the chile peppers. Because of the acid used in the recipe which could be lemon or vinegar, harissa has a subtle tangy flavor as well. As you can guess, it's more than a spicy condiment, it's a whole experience!
While it's always possible to get jarred harissa from the store, I prefer making my own at home since I can control the heat level and make sure that it's a good base for any dish I'm going to use it in.
Ingredients To Make Harissa
The recipe I have developed for harissa is pretty mild with smoky and sweet notes. Here are the ingredients you need to make harissa paste at home:
- Guajillo peppers: You can usually find these dried at the supermarket. They are pretty mild which means they can make a good base for our sauce. Alternatively, you can use New Mexico chiles.
- Chile de arbol: These are tiny but mighty. I added only 2 chiles but you can add more if you like the end result to be very spicy.
- Roasted red peppers: To add color and a touch of sweetness. You can use jarred roasted red peppers or roast red bell peppers in the oven at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes.
- Tomato paste: This is optional but adds color and depth in flavor.
- Caraway seeds: A classic addition to harissa, caraway seeds add a bit of nuttiness. However, if they're not available, you can leave the out.
- Ground coriander: You can also use toasted and ground coriander seeds.
- Garlic: Depending on your preference, you can use 2 to 8 garlic cloves for this recipe. I used 5 cloves and it was just perfect.
- Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed is best and adds a bit of acidity to the sauce.
- Olive oil: You only need 3 tablespoons of olive oil for this recipe and it's best to add it at the very end.
How To Make Harissa Paste
- Deseeds and soak the peppers: Remove the top part of the guajillo peppers and chile de arbol and remove all the seeds. Place them in a large bowl and top with boiling water. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes until they are very soft. Drain and discard the water.
- Toast the caraway seeds: Place a pan over medium heat and toast the caraway seeds for 2 minutes until they are aromatic. Grind them using a pestle and mortar or add them directly to the food processor.
- Blend: Place the peppers in the bowl of a food processor and add in the roasted red peppers, tomato paste, toasted caraway seeds, ground coriander, garlic cloves, lemon juice and salt. Blend for about a minute until a paste forms.
- Add the olive oil: Pause and add the olive oil. Pulse a few times to make sure the olive oil is fully incorporated. Use immediately or transfer to a tight lid jar and refrigerate.
Tips To Make Harissa At Home
- Adjust the heat level: This recipe makes about 2 cups of harissa and I've used 2 chile de arbol for it which makes it mild. If you'd like it spicier, add another chile de arbol.
- Taste: Once the chile pepper paste is ready, give it a taste test with a plain cracker or bread to make sure the salt and lemon is up to your liking.
- Refrigerate: Even though you can use harissa right away, my advice is to refrigerate it for a few hours up to a day to let the flavors combine well.
- Get creative: You can get creative with the ingredients as long as you keep the base as is. Add chipotle pepper in adobo sauce for more smokiness or preserved lemons (without the peel) for a Moroccan flair.
What I love the most about harissa is that it's so versatile and you can use it in so many different ways such as adding it to hummus and marinating chicken. I also like to add a tablespoon of harissa to our Moroccan red lentil soup, Moroccan chickpea stew or simply to scrambled eggs for some extra heat.
Store harissa in an airtight container or jar and refrigerate for up to 10 days. To freeze harissa, transfer it to an ice cube tray, freeze and then transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. You can keep harissa frozen for up to 2 months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Depending on where you live and what's available, you can use almost any kind of chile pepper to make harissa.
Technically you can, however I have found removing the seeds to be much easier if they're dry.
This depends on how you make it. My recipe here is mild with just a kick. It's slightly sweet and tangy with a hint of smoke.
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Homemade Harissa Paste Recipe
- 10 dried guajillo chiles see notes
- 2 chile de arbol see notes
- 2 tsp caraway seeds
- 2 roasted red peppers see notes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste optional
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 lemon juice of
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Remove the top part of the guajillo chiles and chile de arbol and remove the seeds. Place the chiles in a large bowl and fill it with boiling water. Let the peppers sit for 20 to 30 minutes until soften. Then drain and discard the water.
- Place the caraway seeds in a pan over medium heat and toast them for 2 to 3 minutes until aromatic.
- Place the rehydrated peppers, caraway seeds, tomato paste, ground coriander, salt, garlic and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Blend for a minute or so until a paste forms.
- Pause and scrape the sides using a spatula. Add in the olive oil and pulse a few times to make sure it's fully incorporated.
- Use immediately or transfer to a jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
- Alternatively you can use dried New Mexico chiles.
- This recipe yields almost 2 cups of harissa and I used 2 chile de arbol resulting in a sauce that's mild with just enough heat. If you like your sauce to be very spicy, add more chile de arbol.
- You can use jarred roasted red peppers or make your own. Cut 2 red bell peppers in half and remove the seeds. Rub the outsides with olive oil and roast in the oven at 450 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.