Make your own versatile harissa

Emily Ho

Move over, ketchup and Sriracha! When it comes to versatile red condiments, harissa is my absolute favorite. This Tunisian chili sauce is a fantastic shortcut to spice up a meal and can be used with meats, vegetables, couscous, roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs … even as a dip for bread. The list is truly endless.

I first encountered harissa in England and France, where it's often sold in tubes, jars or cans. Then one day last year, at a food swap, I traded for a jar of homemade harissa. It was much better than the store-bought versions, and ever since then I've made my own. Each batch is a little different, depending on my mood and the type of chilies I have on hand. It's fun to play with different variations — some super spicy, others more sweet, smoky, earthy or fruity depending on the peppers.

To make harissa, the chilies are blended into a thick paste with garlic, olive oil and aromatic spices such as caraway and coriander (I like using cumin, too). Keep it simple or make it your own with add-ins.

Use the sauce in traditional Tunisian and Moroccan dishes, or go wild and spread it on your pizza, hot wings, sandwiches and more. I love tossing it with roasted carrots, adding a dab to salad dressing and making harissa-spiked hummus.


Makes about 1 cup or 48 servings.

4 ounces dried chilies of your choice (see recipe notes)

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for storing

Optional additions: fresh lemon juice, preserved lemon, fresh or dried mint, fresh cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, cayenne, paprika


Heatproof bowl for soaking chilies

Skillet for toasting spices

Spice grinder, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle for grinding spices

Knife for stemming and seeding chilies

Gloves for stemming and seeding chilies (optional, but recommended)

Food processor or mortar and pestle for mixing paste

Airtight jar for storage

Place the chilies in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes.

While the chilies are soaking, toast the caraway, coriander and cumin in a dry skillet over low-medium heat, occasionally shaking or stirring to prevent burning. When the spices are fragrant, remove them from the pan.

Grind the spices in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder or coffee grinder.

Drain the chilies, reserving the liquid.

Remove and discard the stems and seeds from the chilies. (Wearing gloves is optional, but recommended to protect your hands.)

Combine the chilies, ground spices, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. (You can also use a mortar and pestle.)

With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process to form a smooth and thick paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. If a thinner paste is desired, blend in a little of the chili soaking liquid until the paste has reached your desired texture.

The flavor of the harissa will deepen over the next day or two, but you can taste it now and add more salt or other optional ingredients to your liking.

Transfer the harissa to a jar and cover the surface with a thin layer of olive oil. Cover the jar and refrigerate for up to a month, adding a fresh layer of olive oil on the top each time you use the harissa.

Recipe notes

Chilies: Use any chilies you like and have on hand, either a single kind or a combination. For moderately spicy harissa, try a mix of guajillo and New Mexico chilies. Add heat with arbol or puya chilies. Add smokiness with chipotle or morita chilies. Add richness with ancho, mulato, or pasilla chilies. For a very mild harissa, use roasted red bell peppers.

To substitute fresh chilies: Use twice as many fresh as dried (e.g., 8 ounces total fresh instead of 4 ounces total dried). You can also use a mix of fresh and dried chilies.

Per serving (per 1 teaspoon): 16 calories; 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 56 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 0 mg cholesterol; 42 mg sodium; 0.3 g protein; 1 g fiber.