Harissa Paste is one of those condiments that you can so easily make yourself. And the results are much more delicious than anything you can find in the store.
What is Harissa?
Harissa is a roasted pepper chile paste that originated in Tunisia but is also a popular condiment in other North African countries, like Morocco, Algeria, and Lybia. Recipes for the spicy condiment vary amongst areas and households. However, they are all based on chile peppers, usually roasted.
What Type of Chiles to Use
You can use any type of chile or a mixture of chiles for Harissa. Some of them should be red ones because this is a red sauce. And some of them should be spicy because this is a hot sauce. I used sweet red bell pepper and some serrano peppers in this recipe, but here are some suggestions for both sweet and hot peppers:
- Bell Peppers (Any colour)
- Pimento Peppers
- Cubanelle Peppers
- Italian Frying Peppers
- Cherry Peppers
- Aleppo Peppers
- Jalapeno Peppers
- Poblano Peppers
- Anaheim Peppers
- Hungarian Wax Peppers
Using Fresh Chiles vs Dried Chiles
You will often see Harissa recipes that use dried chiles. Both the dried chile and the fresh chile versions work and there are, as mentioned, many variations of them both. A fresh chile base will have a different flavour and texture than a dried chile based paste.
The fresh chile version is lighter, with a less intense, but fresh flavour and a looser texture. This makes it perfect for marinades and as a condiment, anywhere it will stand on its own rather than as a flavour add-in.
Dried chiles give the paste a deeper, more intense flavour, and a denser texture, making this paste ideal for adding to sauces, soups, and stews.
All of that being said, the two versions are interchangeable in any recipe.
How Spicy Is Harissa Paste?
Harissa can be as spicy, or not, as you like. It does need to have some heat in order to be harissa, but the actual heat level is up to the cook. The spice level will depend on the types of chiles that you use. Although I made some pepper suggestions above, there are literally thousands of pepper varieties. They fall into a huge range of heat levels that are scored by Scoville units. If you want to know more about that, and also choose your peppers based on their heat levels, check out this explanation of the measurement, and a handy chart: The Scoville Scale
Other factors affecting the spice level are the proportions of hot vs sweet peppers, and the addition of any other spices used.
It also depends on who will be eating! Different people have different spice tolerances, which is something to keep in mind whenever you're serving spicy dishes.
This particular recipe has a fairly mild spice level in order to appeal to some not so spice tolerant people at our table.
How Long Will The Paste Keep?
You can keep your homemade paste in a jar in the fridge for up to two weeks, or you can freeze it for up to a month.
How To Use Harissa Paste
- Anywhere that you would use a hot sauce (like Sriracha), you can use harissa paste.
- Try it on scrambled, fried or poached eggs.
- Add a drizzle to soup, like this Moroccan Sweet Potato Soup with Chickpeas
- Put in on Burgers, Wraps & Sandwiches
- Try it for grilling: Grilled Harissa Chicken Drumsticks
- Add some spice to hummus or Muhammara (another delicious dip)
- Use in stews like Moroccan Chicken & Lentils Tagine
- It's also delicious in these Moroccan Chicken Stuffed Peppers
Spices Used In This Recipe
Although I have included measurements for ground spices, I like to use whole spices whenever possible. Whole spices have a much longer shelf life, while the flavours of ground spices will probably fade before you can use them up. Besides the spices in this recipe, here is a handy guide from Food 52 for the measurements to convert other spices from whole to ground: Spice Conversions Whole to Ground
To grind your own spices, you can use a spice grinder if you have one. Or you can use a coffee grinder that's dedicated to spices, not coffee. And finally, my favourite way to grind spices, a mortar and pestle. While it does require some elbow grease, the mortar & pestle is a centuries-old method of grinding spices across many cultures. It releases more of the essential oils contained in the spices.
However, if you have the spices in the ground form on hand, by all means, use them up.
Harissa Paste Recipe
- Mortar & Pestle
- 2 red bell peppers
- 4 serrano peppers seeded
- 3 tbsp lemon juice one lemon
- 1 tsp coriander seeds or 1 ¼ tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cumin seeds or1 ¼ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp caraway seeds or 1 ¼ tsp ground caraway
- 1 tsp black peppercorn seeds or 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp fresh mint finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 400°
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
- Rub all of the peppers lightly with oil and place them on the prepared baking sheet
- Roast Peppers until lightly charred, about 20 minutes
- Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover with a plate or plastic wrap
- While peppers are cooling, toast the coriander, cumin, caraway and black pepper seeds in a skillet over low heat, until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes
- Transfer the toasted seeds to a mortar & pestle and grind into powder
- When cool enough to handle, remove the skin, seeds, and membranes from the peppers.
- Put the peppers, ground spices, salt, garlic, mint, and olive oil into a food processor or high powered blender. Process until smooth
- Taste and add more olive oil, salt, or lemon as needed
- Transfer to a one-pint jar and refrigerate