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If you’re looking for an easy way to add big, bold flavor to anything you eat, say hello to fresh homemade harissa paste! One of the world’s most delicious condiments, harissa is a deeply flavorful blend of chiles, spices and olive oil.
Learn the steps to making the most flavorful harissa sauce without burning heat is the different types of chiles you can use.
What is harissa?
Harissa is a condiment from North Africa, specifically the Mediterranean regions of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Basically, harissa is a blended paste of red peppers, dried chilies, garlic, spices and olive oil.
While there’s no one single way to make harissa as recipes vary from place to place and cook to cook, what they usually have in common is the complexity of the chili peppers.
Why make homemade harissa?
You can buy harissa paste and harissa seasoning in many grocery stores, often in the condiment aisle in stores like Whole Foods.
But aside from my one or two of my favorite brands (which is not always easy to find), I’m often disappointed with the flavor and quality. The good thing is that it’s really not difficult to make harissa at home.
All you really need is a small food processor to blend the mixture. Once made, harissa keeps well in the fridge for weeks.
It’s easy to make this super-tasty chili sauce with a handful of ingredients. Here’s what you need:
- Dried chilies (see list below)
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Spices: Coriander and cumin seeds
- Lemon juice
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
In addition to dried chilies, this recipe also calls for sun-dried tomatoes. They add even more concentrated flavor to the paste and balance out its pungency.
Some versions of harissa also include roasted red bell pepper. If you have jarred peppers in your pantry, toss one in while blending the paste.
Dried chile peppers in homemade harissa:
Harissa includes a combination of dried chiles in the medium range of the Scoville heat scale, and sometimes even roasted mild, sweet red bell peppers.
- Ancho:Dried version of the fresh poblano pepper. It’s the sweetest of all dried chiles, with mild heat and fruity overtones.
- De Arbol: Small pepper related to cayenne pepper, with a medium-hot spiciness.
- Guajillo: Shiny-skinned dried chile with a vibrant brick-red color and a sweet, mild heat level.
Harissa is not always spicy
Is harissa spicy? Compared to its cousins in the hot-sauce world like sriracha, gochujang and Chinese chili-garlic sauce, harissa actually isn’t that hot.
I absolutely love chiles, but I’m not a fan of unbearably fiery-hot sauces because they dull the flavor of everything else in my mouth. That’s not fun!
The key to making the most flavorful harissa without burning heat is the judicious use of different types of chiles.
How to make harissa sauce:
The great thing about this recipe is that you can experiment. Don’t be afraid to tinker with the ingredients until your harissa tastes just as spicy (or not) as you want!
The prep time for this recipes is 10-15 minutes, plus 15-20 minutes of soaking time
How to store
- How long does harissa last: Keep your homemade harissa in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Drizzle a bit of oil over the top and cover securely with a lid.
- To use it from the refrigerator, leave it out at room temperature for 10-15 minutes.
- When the harissa is chilled it will thicken in texture. You can blend in a tablespoon or so of hot water to achieve a saucy consistency.
How to use harissa
- Incorporating harissa into your everyday cooking will elevate even the simplest vegetables or lean animal proteins into something special.
- You can add straight-from-the-fridge harissa into a bowl of warm farro, short grain rice or other hearty grain — it will melt deliciously and season the dish.
- Season meat, fish or vegetables with before roasting, and spoon it over eggs to make a savory breakfast with tons of flavor!
More recipes using harissa sauce
- Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad
- Moroccan Sheet Pan Chicken Tray Bake
- Harissa Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
- Baked Harissa Chicken with Chickpeas
Homemade Harissa Paste Recipe
Makes about 1 cup
- 2 dried guajillo chiles
- 1 dried ancho chile
- 5-6 dried chiles de arbol
- ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
- ¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional if needed
- Break the chiles open. Remove the stems and shake out most of the seeds and discard. Put the chiles in a bowl along with the sun-dried tomatoes and cover with boiling water. Let it all soak until soft and pliable, up to 30 minutes depending on how dry they are.
- Put the chiles in a small food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Process to form a relatively smooth paste, adding more olive oil if the paste seems too thick to blend. Taste and season with additional salt, vinegar or lemon juice if you like.
- Transfer the harissa to a tightly covered container such as a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator up to one month.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- To store: Harissa paste keeps refrigerated 1-2 months. Drizzle a thin layer of olive oil over the surface and cover securely.
- Note: If you’re sensitive to chiles or don’t work with them often, you might want to wear gloves when handling them for this recipe.