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22 June 2018

This homemade harissa recipe is the ultimate chili paste with a mixture of chili peppers, oil and seasonings, including cumin, caraway, coriander and more. Learn how to make it.

Ever wonder how to make your own harissa chili paste at home? Here you go. It’s a rather straightforward process, easy in my opinion, 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!

Homemade Harissa in a bowl - it's a wonderfully versatile chili paste

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 of harissa, depending on the local ingredients.

It is typically made from local fresh or dried peppers, along with seasonings like caraway, cumin and coriander seeds, garlic, mint, saffron, paprika and salt. The mixture is blended with oil to form a paste that builds flavor and helps it remain fresher longer.

The Chili Peppers: Commonly used peppers are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, and Baklouti peppers, though a popular version is to use dried pods, which I use for my recipe.

Let’s talk about making it, shall we?

How to Make Harissa

  1. First, set your selection of dried peppers into a large bowl or pot and pour boiling water over them. Let them steep for about 20 minutes to soften. Set them into the food processor.
  2. 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.
  3. Add in your olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice, and process to form a paste.
  4. Store in a jar with a little oil over the top. Use as needed.
BOOM! Done. Quite simple, isn’t it?

Rehydrating the peppers only requires some very hot water poured over them, then letting them steep long enough to soften. Once soft, simply remove the stems and innards and process them as needed.

Toasting seeds is easy as well. Toss them together into a dry pan and heat them a couple minutes until they brown slighly.

You’ll smell them, telling you they are ready to grind. Grind them up in a mortar with a pestle, or use an electric grinder, though for a recipe of this size, a mortar will probably work better for you.

What is the Flavor of Harissa?

Harissa 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.

Harissa Recipe Tips

When working with dried chili 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 harissa without this step, but I find that you’ll achieve a harissa with more depth of flavor from the initial toasting step.

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.

Can You Make Harissa with Chili Powder Instead?

Yes, you can. Weights can vary from pepper to pepper, but use these measurements for making harissa with chili powder:

  • 3-4 ounces (85g – 113g) ancho powder.
  • 3 ounces pasilla (85g) powder.
  • 3 ounces guajillo (85g) powder
  • .5-1 ounce (14g – 28g) chile de arbol powder.

You can use other chili powders, such as smoked paprika or red pepper, as well for different tasting chili paste to your preference. If the paste is too loose or watery, add in a bit more powder to thicken it up. If it feels too thick, add in a bit of water or mix in a bit more olive oil.

What Can You Cook with Harissa?

I love swirling harissa into soups or stews, to season fish or rub into chicken. You can also turn it into a wonderful sauce. 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 on that main dish.

Learn More about How to Make Chili Paste from Fresh Chili Peppers – includes links to a variety of recipes.

What is a Substitute for Harissa Paste?

A good substitute for harissa is sriracha. If you’ve found that you’ve run out of harissa for a particular recipe, sriracha will work in a pinch. Sriracha is typically sweeter than harissa, though has a similar flavor profile. You can also try gochujang, which is a Korean chili paste, or sambal oelek, which is a simpler fresh chili paste.

Harissa Recipe Variations

As mentioned, 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 particular 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. Here is one I made recently with a mix of dried and fresh roasted red peppers. It looks a bit different from the original photo, quite a bit more bright red.

Mike's homemade harrisa recipe in a food processor

Experiment with different herbs and spices, such as mint, basil, even spicy chili powders or curries. You can also add more oil.

I often will include smoked and dried serrano chili peppers in my harissa as a flavorful variation. See how to smoke chili peppers.

There is no limit to creativity with this recipe.

Is Harissa Paste the Same as Harissa Sauce?

Harissa paste is much thicker than harissa sauce, which is made from a base of harissa with other ingredients to thin it out to more of a sauce-like thickness. Some ingredients to make a harissa sauce from homemade harissa are tomato sauce, stock, or extra olive oil.

What is Harissa Powder?

Harissa powder is made from a collection of dried seasonings, usually chili powder with herbs and spices. It is not the same as harissa paste, which is made from roasted peppers. However, you can dehyrate harissa paste to make a homemade harissa powder to use as you wish.

Does Harissa Have to be Spicy?

Harissa does not have to be spicy. The heat and spice factor depends largely on your choice of chili peppers used to make it. You can make a milder harissa that has no heat yet plenty of spice by using peppers that bear no heat. You can also core out any hot peppers before roasting them to reduce the overall heat.

Homemade Harissa in a while bowl - made from dried peppers, toasted herbs and spices

Try Some of These Popular Recipes that Use Harissa

Try These Other Popular Chili Paste Recipes, Too!

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.

5 from 5 votes
Homemade Harissa Recipe
Homemade Harissa Chili Paste - Recipe
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 

This homemade harissa recipe is the ultimate chili paste with a mixture of chili peppers, oil and seasonings, including cumin, caraway, coriander and more. Learn how to make it.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chili paste, chili peppers, recipe, spicy
Servings: 6
Calories: 76 kcal
Author: Mike Hultquist
Ingredients
  • 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
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients and process to form a paste while drizzling in the olive oil.

  4. Store in a jar with a little oil over the top. Use as needed.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

Store in the refrigerator. Because of the use of garlic in this recipe, use within a week.

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.

Nutrition Facts
Homemade Harissa Chili Paste - Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 76 Calories from Fat 63
% Daily Value*
Fat 7g11%
Sodium 583mg24%
Potassium 72mg2%
Carbohydrates 3g1%
Sugar 1g1%
Vitamin A 885IU18%
Vitamin C 26.6mg32%
Calcium 5mg1%
Iron 0.3mg2%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

This recipe was updated with new photos and a video. Previously published on 5/20/2015.

Homemade Harissa Recipe - This homemade harissa recipe is the ultimate chili paste with a mixture of chili peppers, oil and seasonings, including cumin, caraway, coriander and more. Learn how to make it. #Harissa #ChiliPeppers #ChiliPaste #SpicyFood

18 comments

  1. John Shotsky

    Would appreciate weights measurements, so I could convert to powder measurements. I have all the peppers in powder form.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      John, weights can vary from pepper to pepper, but I would use these measurements and adjust from there:

      3-4 ounces (85g – 113g) ancho powder.
      3 ounces pasilla (85g) powder.
      3 ounces guajillo (85g) powder
      .5-1 ounce (14g – 28g) chile de arbol powder.

      Of course you can still make this with other chili powders as well for different tasting chili paste to your preference. If you feel the paste is too loose or watery, add in a bit more powder to thicken it up,, or if it is too thick, just add in a bit of water or more oil. I hope this helps.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Catherine. Definitely a must for me. I LOVE homemade harissa. The best!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Carissa. Yes, HUGE on flavor for sure.


  2. Your blend looks perfectly complex. I’ve made harissa at home once. It took forever to deseed the peppers but the flavor of homemade over storebought was totally worth it.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Julie. Truly, HUGE on flavor.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Sandhya, that would be an excellent use for sure!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Natanja. This would be GREAT on baked potatoes to really spice them up.

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