Homemade Harissa

4 Dec

NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Harissa (هريسة) is a North African chili sauce, commonly used as a condiment and curry base in Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco. Its complex and slightly spicy taste is often compared to a similar Asian sauce, the equally-delicious almighty Sriracha. There is a lot of variation in the sauce, but the recipe I developed is one that pairs well with many curry sauces, including my Lamb Tagine recipe.

While there is mention of Harissa as early as the 13th century, it probably didn’t take the form we recognize today until later, since chili peppers arrived in Europe and Africa following Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

yields approx. 4 tbsp

You’ll Need:
4 large dried Anaheim chilies
1 bird’s eye chili or piri piri (fresh or dried okay)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp each salt, cumin, ground coriander seeds, caraway seeds
1/4 cup olive oil

The recipe as you see it above is only slightly spicy; to increase the spiciness, add more bird’s eye or piri piri chilies.

Your first step is to soak the chili peppers for 30 minutes in warm water, until soft, then remove the stems and seeds. If you are using a dried bird’s eye chili or piri piri you should soak them, too.

Next, get your other ingredients together. If using a fresh chili like the one I used above, be sure to cut the stem off and remove any seeds you find (use a glove or wash your hands immediately!). Next comes the hard part: blend it all together. My handy Magic Bullet worked perfectly (seriously, I can’t recommend this gadget enough).

That’s it! Throw it in the fridge and it should keep for a couple of weeks. The flavors will marry much better after a few hours, much like in my tzatziki sauce recipe.

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14 Responses to “Homemade Harissa”

  1. A Slim Winter December 4, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    girl! this is really similar to how i make mine, too. none of that sweet red bell pepper bullshit. just the damn chiles! i do like mine a bit smoky though, so i use dried chipotle mecco, de arbol, and new mexico mild. i also squish in some lemon juice at the end. hell on wheels, i tell you. makes everything better.

  2. trangquynh December 7, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    actually I read this post after your Lamb Tagine, I was really curious about the beautiful color of the harissa and your tagine, now I just can’t wait to try to make it at home !

  3. tsp. (@thesadpigoink) December 17, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Great article, how does it compare to the Tunisian stuff in the little metal tube? It looks the same.

    • Russ Crandall (thedomesticman.com) December 17, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      It tastes similar, but with a little less body – I believe the tube harissa is made with veggies too, like carrots and parsnips, so it’s a little more full-flavored.

  4. Chris @ ChrisLovesJulia August 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Totally pin-worthy. I’m looking to get a tagine in the next month or two, and your lamb tagine will be one of my first dishes.

  5. Brendito November 23, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    When soaking the chili’s does it matter how long? What I have found is that sometimes I have ended with the skin of the chili’s still being dry and somewhat ruining the the whole Harissa experience. Harrissa is something I definitely don’t want to ruin either

    • Russ Crandall November 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      Brendito, soaking for 30 mins in warm water usually does the trick. If it’s still a little firm after 30 mins, give it another 10 or so and keep checking.


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