Harissa is a North African chilli paste, earthy and smoky in flavour. In its most basic form, you’ll find just chillies, garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice. But you don’t have to stop there, as you’ll see below.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Harissa is a very easy recipe to make at home.
Every North African family will have its own recipe, that is if they bother making it at all, because here in Morocco, fresh Harissa is so easily available everywhere, just like freshly mixed Ras El Hanout.
At the time of writing this article (November 2015), my family and I are spending a month in Salé, a little known town close to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. This is our 6th country in 4 months, we started in Kuala Lumpur, with a family wedding.
So since I’m here, I thought it would be fun to do a post on how to make Harissa at home, because whatever you make is always going to be better than the shop bought version in jars. Right?
Besides the freshness, another advantage to making stuff from scratch at home is that it’ll always be made to suit your tastes. I love my chilli condiments medium hot, not crazy hot because I love to be able to savour the multiple sensations of flavours without my mouth or tummy burning off. Know what I mean?
How to use Harissa
Harissa is actually a Tunisian invention but you will find it all across North Africa, from Morocco to Libya, with so many possibilities for its uses:
- as a table condiment,
- a cooking ingredient
- makes a great marinade for grilling, roasting and barbecuing, whether on its own or added to something else.
Here in Morocco, it is a popular ingredient in the much loved North African sausages called Merguez. And here are some examples of how we use harissa here on LinsFood:
I use it for all manner of cooking and serving whether to add depth/bite to soups and stews, to pasta and as a great canapé topping.
Our fridge is a veritable “dispensary” of all sorts of chilli condiments or chilli sauces; and you’ll find Harissa in there, right along with Sambal Belacan, Sambal Ijo and various Nam Priks (Thai Chilli condiments). I cannot have a meal without some form of chilli. As much as I love black pepper, it’s just not the same!
Have you ever tried Harissa mayo? Oh man, you just have to!
And you might want to buy some water off this guy after your first taste of real harissa!
Is Harissa Hot?
As Harissa is a chilli paste, it is meant to be hot. However, as mentioned above, I prefer to go down the middle road, so with that in mind for my Harissa recipe, I go for a combination of:
- mild (for the fruity chilli flavour)
- hot (for the err, heat)
- dried and smoky (for the depth)
All red. So, examples of what I might use, but not all at the same time:
- fresh jalapeños (mild)
- fresh Thai (hot) or Scotch Bonnets (hot)
- dried Kashmiri chillies (mild) – image above, the longer chillies
- sichuan chillies (hot) – image above, left, the shorter chillies
- anchos for depth and flavour, anchos are dried poblanos
- chipotle, dried jalapeños, also for depth and flavour
Mix and match your chillies and see what you like best but for a start, you can follow the recipe I’ve given below.
If you really, really, really don’t want much heat in your harissa, here’s a suggestion:
Use red capsicums (bell peppers) in place of the chillies for an extra mild harissa!
Different flavours for Harissa
Now you can keep your Harissa plain and simple, in its basic form, with or without the dried spices or you can jazz it up a little by adding different flavours. Some of my favourite flavours for making different types of Harissa, especially at Christmas time, as edible gifts:
- preserved lemons – adds a wonderful tangy and sour dimension to your Harissa. Use a quarter of the preserved lemon peel, do not use the pulp, it’s bitter.
- dries edible rose petals – gives a hint of musk and sweetness. Use about 1 tablespoon of dried petals, grind them to a powder with the dried spices.
- sundried tomatoes (or paste) – another layer of flavour. One sundried tomato, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then blitzed with the other ingredients OR 1 teaspoon of sundried tomato paste.
Do you like this recipe? Please give it a 5-star rating below! And when you make it, share it on any social medium and tag me @azlinbloor. Thank you! … Lin xx
More Chilli Pepper Recipes
You can see how easy it is to make Harissa at home, so next time you have some spare time, go make a small batch for yourself! And if you love your chillies, then be sure to head on over to the Chilli Page for recipes like:
How to make Harissa, a North African Chilli Paste
- 10 dried red chilli peppers heat level, your choice
- 1 large ancho chilli (leave out if unavailable) you can substitute with anything mild, even a bell pepper
- 2 fresh red chillies of your choice I like plain old jalapeños
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp ground coriander seeds
- ½ tsp ground caraway seeds
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- juice of half a lemon
- 3 Tbsp EV olive oil plus more to “seal”
- Using a pair of kitchen scissors, cut the dried chillies in half or thirds.
- Soak them all together in a bowl of hot water for 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, dry fry the cumin, coriander and caraway seeds on medium heat for about 2 minutes until fragrant. Don’t let them burn.
- Drain the chillies. If you discard the seeds, your harissa will be less spicy.
- Grind the spices in a coffee or spice mill until finely ground.
- Place the chillies, garlic, salt, lemon juice and olive oil in a food chopper and blitz to a fine paste, scraping down the sides if necessary.
- Add the ground spices, and blitz to mix.
- Store in a sterilized jar , top with a thin layer of olive oil and store in the fridge.
- Use as you want, it should last for 2-3 weeks in the fridge.
12 thoughts on “How to make Harissa, a North African Chilli Paste”
Absolutely brilliant! And I love all the variations you’ve given
I love Harissa paste.I use it in all my cooking and eat it as a pickle too.
That’s wonderful, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! x
I have only ever used the shop bought ones until I saw your recipe last month. Well, I want to tell you that you are right – it is so much better than anything from a jar! I split the amount into 2, then added some rose petals, oh my goodness, it’s like a whole new world! I am going to be making this a lot using all your different suggestions! Thank you, and going to check out your other chilli pastes too!
Thank you so much, Jennifer! I hope you have a lot of fun experimenting!
Hey Azlin, I love how this harissa looks, I love the suggestions you have given and how versatile it is. Planning to make it sometime this week, will let you know how it goes. In your main picture, I love the Moroccan cushions in the background!
Thank you, let me know how it goes!
I recently came across your recipes and your chile paste was a revelation for my stir fry and soups. I am extremely excited to try this recipe since I saw a recipe for harira in one of my cookbooks. Sadly their harissa was not at all good and sent me looking for an authentic recipe. I love your food! I’m looking forward to another try at harira.
Thank you Michelle, I’m really pleased to hear that you like the chilli paste! It’s a key ingredient in our kitchen!
Fabulous Lin, just another winner Grahame x
Thank you so much, Graham, it’s always lovely to hear from you! I hope you are keeping well. x