This homemade harissa recipe is the ultimate chili paste with a mixture of peppers, oil and seasonings, including cumin, caraway, coriander and more, extremely versatile.
Ever wonder how to make your own Harissa at home? Here you go. It's a rather straightforward process, but if you don't cook much, you'll be doing a few things you've never done before, like rehydrating dried chili peppers and lightly toasting fresh seeds and grinding them.
Not a big deal, pretty easy, just new maybe. Or not!
What is Harissa?
Harissa is a highly popular chili paste used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. The recipe varies by the region, so you will find variation after variation depending on the local ingredients.
It is typically made from local fresh or dried peppers that are often smoked, along with seasonings like caraway, cumin and coriander seeds, garlic, mint, saffron, smoked paprika and salt. The mixture is blended with oil to form a chili paste that builds flavor and helps it remain fresher longer.
The Chili Peppers: Commonly used peppers are roasted red bell peppers, serrano peppers, and Baklouti peppers, though a popular version is to use dried chile peppers (chiles de arbol, ancho peppers, guajillo peppers, pasilla peppers), which I use for my recipe.
The paste has a deeply earthy flavor that is rich and spicy, and it is quite aromatic. The flavors do vary from region to region, based on the peppers and the spices used, but it is always aromatic and concentrated with flavors. A little bit goes a long way, so use sparingly in your recipes.
Let's talk about how to make harissa paste, shall we?
- Dried Chilies. I'm using guajillo, ancho, pasilla, and chile de arbol for a bit of extra heat.
- Tomato Paste. Optional.
- Roasted Red Peppers. Red bells. Optional, but I love it.
- Seasonings. Caraway, coriander and cumin seeds, salt.
- Oil. Use the best extra virgin olive oil.
- Fresh Garlic.
- Lemon Juice.
How to Make Harissa - the Recipe Method
Soak the Dried Peppers. First, set your selection of dried peppers (stems and seeds removed) into a large bowl or pot and pour boiling water over them. Let them steep for about 20 to 30 minutes to soften. Set them into the food processor.
Toast and Grind the Seeds. Dry toast the caraway seeds, coriander sees and cumin seeds in a pan until they are fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Cool then grind them up with a mortar and pestle. Into the food processor they go.
Process the Harissa Paste. Add in your olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice, and process to form a paste. Strain for a smoother harissa.
Store the Harissa. Taste and adjust. Store in a jar with a little oil over the top. Use as needed.
BOOM! Done. Quite simple, isn't it?
Recipe Tips & Notes
- Toast the Dried Peppers. When working with dried peppers, I like to dry toast them in a hot skillet a few minutes before rehydrating them to release their oils. I do this for other chili pastes as well. You can make it without this step, but I find that you'll achieve more depth of flavor from the initial toasting step.
- Wear Gloves. It is also smart to wear gloves when handling hot peppers if your skin is sensitive to the chili oils, which can cause a mild burning sensation.
- Harissa Recipe Variations. Recipes for harissa can and do vary from region to region, depending on the ingredients available to the area as well as personal tastes. This recipe is more common, though you can easily alter it to fit your palate. Consider using roasted peppers of any variety in lieu of tomato paste. Try fresh tomatoes as well, or sun dried tomatoes in oil. You can also add ingredients to make a sauce, like my Harissa Sauce Recipe.
Experiment with different herbs and spices, such as mint, basil, even spicy chili powders or curries. You can also add more oil.
There is no limit to creativity with this recipe.
What Can You Cook with Harissa?
I love swirling it into soups or stews, to season fish or rub into chicken. You can also turn it into a wonderful sauce. It's great for hot sauces. It adds a nice complexity to your meals, and when you have your own homemade harissa paste on hand ready to go, it will save you a lot of time in the kitchen.
Learn More about How to Make Chili Paste from Fresh Chili Peppers - includes links to a variety of recipes.
Try Some of These Popular Recipes
- Grilled Harissa Chicken
- Harissa Rubbed Baked Chicken Breasts
- Grilled Shrimp with Harissa Marinade
- Creamy White Bean Dip with Harissa
Try These Other Popular Recipes, Too!
- Harissa Sauce Recipe
- Green Harissa
- Sambal Oelek
- Nam Prik Pao (Thai Chili Paste)
- Doubanjiang (Chinese Chili-Bean Paste)
- Mojo Picon - Canarian Red Pepper Sauce
- Bravas Sauce (Salsa Brava)
- Easy Hoisin Sauce
- How to make Chili Paste from Fresh Peppers
If you try this recipe, please let us know! Leave a comment, rate it and tag a photo #ChiliPepperMadness on Instagram so we can take a look. I always love to see all of your spicy inspirations. Thanks! -- Mike H.
Homemade Harissa Recipe (How to Make Harissa Paste)
- 6 dried guajillo peppers stemmed and seeded
- 6 dried ancho peppers stemmed and seeded
- 3 dried pasilla peppers
- 6 dried chiles de arbol or other dried peppers of choice
- 2 tbsp tomato paste optional
- 1 Roasted red bell pepper optional
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 6 cloves garlic
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Set the dried peppers into a large bowl or pot and pour boiling water over them. Let them steep about 20 minutes to soften. Set them into the food processor. NOTE: I prefer to dry toast the dried peppers in a hot skillet a few minutes before rehydrating them to release their oils, though you can make harissa without this step.
- Dry roast the caraway seeds, coriander sees and cumin seeds in a pan until they are fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Cool then grind them up with a mortar and pestle. Into the food processor they go.
- Add all remaining ingredients and process to form a paste while drizzling in the olive oil. Strain for a smoother harissa.
- Store in a jar with a little oil over the top. Use as needed.
NOTE: This recipe was updated on 1/14/22 with new information, photos and a video. It was previously published on 5/20/2015.