Tunisian Harissa

July 15, 2008

A condiment that always has a place in our pantry – storebought or homemade - is harissa, a spicy North African chili paste often used to jazz up meat dishes, stews, and couscous-based tagines. We love to combine with mayonnaise (1:1 ratio) for a lovely sauce on sandwiches and sometimes add a healthy dollop to storebought BBQ sauce for extra punch.  

There are many subtle variations in harissa recipes, from mild to flaming hot. Some contain tomatoes, some don’t, and some are smokier than others.  Here’s a version we like to make at home.

Smoky Harissa

1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
10 dried red chili peppers (try a mixture of mild, medium, and hot)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Over a gas flame or on the barbecue, roast a red bell pepper until black. Place 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 same 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 an airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top to keep fresh.




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!!!