Harissa is the fiery-hot chili paste of North Africa, used as a table condiment or as an ingredient to spice up sauces and salads. There is no one true version of harissa—it differs from country to country and from one cook to the next. But all versions are based on red chilies, pureed with garlic, olive oil, and at least one of several of the most common spices found in North Africa: cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, and caraway seeds. You can use any hot red chili pepper, but for the most flavorful results, try anchos, New Mexican, or guajillo, either individually or in combination. This recipe uses reconstituted dried red chilies, but harissa can also be made with steamed fresh chilies.

Serves / Yields: 1 cup


  • 12 dried chilies
  • 4 cloves garlic 1
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ground cumin to taste
  • ground coriander to taste
  • fennel seeds to taste
  • and/or caraway seeds to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • extra virgin olive oil


  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the chili peppers. Soak in warm water for 20–30 minutes, or until softened. Drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  2. Place the chilies in a blender or food processor, along with the garlic, lemon juice, spices, and salt, and blend to a smooth paste. With the motor running, add olive oil teaspoon by teaspoon until a thick paste forms. Spoon into a jar, top with a layer of olive oil, and store in the refrigerator. Harissa should be made at least a day in advance for the flavors to blend; it also freezes well.

Ideas for Harissa

  • Stir harissa and smoked Spanish paprika into pureed red peppers for a spicy dip for vegetables or a spread for crusty bread.
  • Mix chopped preserved lemons, garlic, and olive oil with harissa to make Tunisian relish. It’s delicious tossed with cold steamed vegetables.
  • Rub harissa into meat, chicken, or fish, then marinate for 30 minutes before grilling.
  • To turn a jar of plain black or green olives into something special, drain and combine with 1 tablespoon harissa, 3 fresh bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon each of roasted cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds. Return the olives to the jar, top off with olive oil to cover, and refrigerate for a week. Bring to room temperature before serving.
  • To make a spicy vinaigrette, whisk together 2 teaspoons of harissa, 1 teaspoon honey, 1⁄3 cup lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Add ¾ cup olive oil. Toss with a simple salad of tomatoes, black olives, fresh chopped coriander, and mint


The Ethnic Paris Cookbook


[[Dips]] [[Middle eastern recipes]]