Homemade Harissa

Harissa ingredients wide shot

When I think of my favorite flavors for cooking, spicy and peppery are the first things that come to mind. My pantry is full of hot sauces, pepper pastes, and kicked-up condiments. Despite this, I don’t consider myself a chili-head. In my experience chili-heads keep track of scoville units like the Forbes top 100 keep track of their bank accounts. For them, it’s a badge of honor. To the uninitiated, scoville units refer to the ever-increasing level of burn most associated with the hotness of a variety of pepper. To me fire takes a back seat to flavor. After all, what’s the point if I can’t taste anything but the heat? I do like a little heat to certain dishes but not melt-my-face-off-heat. The culinary world certainly has its gold standards like Tabasco and the immensely popular sriracha. Lately however, an emerging audience is discovering a new generation of fiery flavored condiments. Among them are Korean gochujang, sambal, and one of my favorites: the North African chili paste, harissa.

Harissa is popular in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and is essentially a smoky, red pepper paste. It pairs well with any dish that can use a splash of spice, and is relatively easy to make with ingredients found at your local market. Any recipe that doesn’t require a trip to a specialty store is a real winner in my book and makes it much more likely to accompany my food on the plate, – especially if you are as lazy as I am. Besides, homemade always tastes better than store bought, and this recipe is cheaper than commercial alternatives.



Here are the ingredients you will need:

1 fresh red bell pepper

Juice from half a fresh lemon

4 cloves of fresh garlic

2-3 dried chipotle peppers

5-6 dried guajillo (spicier) or ancho (milder) chili peppers

2 TBS of olive oil

3 tsp of coriander seeds

2 tsp of cumin seeds

1 tsp of caraway seeds

Salt to taste

2 TSP of red pepper broth

First, slice the red bell pepper in quarters and roast it in the oven at 350 degrees until the flesh is soft and develops a little char on the skin.



While the red pepper is roasting, fill a 3-quart saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer. De-seed your dried chipotle and guajillo/ancho peppers and place them in the pan. Harrissa1-5Simmer the peppers until they are nice and soft. Normally this recipe wouldn’t need chipotles, but since we aren’t fire roasting the peppers fresh, they make up for some of the lost smokiness.

While the dried chilies are rehydrating in the simmering water its time to toast the spices. Combine the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds into a small dry skillet and roast on medium heat until fragrant and brown but be careful not to blacken, as this will make the spices bitter. This usually takes 3-4 minutes. I have a small cast iron skillet that works perfectly for this task.
Be sure and continuously stir the spices to keep the seeds from burning.Harrissa1-6 Harrissa1-4

Once the seasonings are toasted, move them to a spice grinder and grind until a semi-fine powder is achieved. If you don’t have a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle do an excellent job.Harrissa1-7

To finish the paste, move all the ingredients and two tablespoons of the rehydrated pepper broth into a food processor and blend until smooth. If you don’t have a food processor, a mortar and pestle will get the job done with a little more elbow grease.


Spoon the mixture into small sealable jars and cover with a layer of olive oil to preserve. The mixture should last about three weeks in the fridge. To help it last longer you can freeze the harissa, but honestly it’s so easy to make ­I recommend simply making a new batch when needed. Spread the mixture on any number of grilled meats or vegetables for some wonderful earthy heat. Enjoy.


Homemade Harissa
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: North African
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 cups
This homemade harissa recipe is perfect for any meat or vegetable that could use some smoky spice.
  • 1 fresh red bell pepper
  • Juice from half fresh lemon
  • 4 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 2-3 dried chipotle peppers
  • 5-6 dried guajillo or ancho peppers
  • 2 TBS of olive oil
  • 3 tsp of coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp of caraway seeds
  • salt to taste
  1. Slice the red bell pepper into quarters and roast in an oven at 350 degrees until flesh is soft and develops some char on the skin.
  2. Simmer 1.5 quarts of water in a saucepan
  3. De-seed dried peppers and simmer in water until soft
  4. Toast coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds in a dry skillet
  5. Grind spices in a spice grinder or mortal and pestle until they are a semi-fine powder
  6. Combine 2 TBS of the pepper water and all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth
  7. Spoon mixture into small resealable jars and cover with a layer of olive oil

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