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
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.