Tunisian Harissa

July 15, 2008

If you like hot and spicy foods then you’d love harissa, a North African chili paste most commonly found in Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan cuisines. It’s often used as a condiment but is also added to meat dishes, stews, couscous or sauces.

A little bit of this delicious chili paste goes a long way. Too much can turn your hair red and melt the lips right off your face! There are a lot of subtle variations in harissa recipes; some of which would alert the fire department two blocks from my house, while others appeared to be on the slightly milder side. Some contain tomatoes, some don’t. I grabbed elements from a few different sources and gave it a whirl.


10 dried red chili peppers
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil

Over a gas flame or on the barbecue, roast a red bell pepper until black. Put it in a paper bag and close up the top. Let it sit for about 30 minutes, or until you can easily slide the skin off. Remove the top and seeds, then dice. Heat a heavy skillet until very hot. Add the dried chilies and toast them 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add just enough water to cover the chilies. Cover and let sit 30-45 minutes (or until soft).

Take out of the water, and remove the stems and seeds. I recommend wearing gloves when handling extra hot chilies! In the skillet, toast the coriander, caraway and cumin until fragrant. Then, combine spices with all the remaining ingredients in a food processor, and blend to a smooth paste. Add water if necessary.

Store in airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top to keep fresh.

Note: For a less fire-hot harissa consider using a milder chili, such as ancho.



sarah's picture

when i eat out at restaurants where they have this, i go nuts.

Florian's picture

Home-made Harissa is obviously better than store-bought but if you have time constraints, cook the lamb, prepare the Couscous and buy the Harissa (in a can is better than a tube). http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Image:Harissa-1.jpg

I enjoy experimenting with chutneys and pickles and will definitely try the Rp.

Tip: use latex gloves whenever touching the hot chilli papers or don't touch your face / lips / eyes for 3 days - washing hands often is of little help.

Graeme's picture

I knew that Harissa could be seriously shit-hot, but when your recipe calls for chilis in double figures, it's time to start taking things seriously!

The photo is making my mouth water; and hey, I'd bet a dab of this particular sauce would be just great with the burgers from the previous post.

Lauren's picture

That looks delicious! Ground coriander is truly the miracle ingredient. Goes so well with meat and grilled foods!!!

Hélène's picture

Beautiful picture. This looks really good.

Kevin's picture

That looks good and sounds tasty!

Dreama's picture

OOOOOOhhhh....this just sounds wonderful, what a super recipe. I love hot and spicey sauces. Thanks for this blog.....I'm back on computer and catching up on the blogs that I've missed for the past month!!

Kristen's picture

I love Harissa, now I will try to make it for myself! Thanks for all the hard work.

Do you know how to make Tunisian tabil spice? I have not been able to recreate that one either.

keep up the great work!

matbakhun's picture


great recipes!!!