homemade harissa

by Stacy

Have you ever had harissa? It’s a spicy condiment made from chilis ground into a paste. Like most condiments, there is a basic idea with a multitude of variations by region, brand, family, etc. I’ve seen harissa listed as an ingredient many times, but never had any on hand. Either I would skip the recipe, substitute chili oil, or just add more dried chiles.

But no more! Because today I saw a recipe I wanted to make and I had every single ingredient except (you guessed it) harissa. What I did have, however, were the ingredients for harissa.

Some of you may think that I am ridiculous for making certain things at home (bread, yogurt, mayonnaise, etc.) and that you are too lazy to do such silly things. For the record, I don’t make things at home because I’m an over-achiever, I make them at home because I am lazy. Too lazy to go to the store and buy them. Too lazy to take my husband to work and pick him up again just so I have the car to go buy them. While I realize that if you have a full-time job you might not have time on a weekday to make something so easily-purchased, I do. And on a weekend you might, and this potent stuff saves for a bit once it’s whirred up.

Ok, off the soapbox and back into the kitchen.

The basic ingredients for the harissa I made (based on this recipe) are: chiles, garlic, salt, cumin, coriander and caraway, and olive oil (not pictured).

ingredients for harissa (chili paste)

I didn’t have coriander or caraway, but I did have some garam masala which contained both of those things. Please don’t report me to the harissa police.

The recipe says to soak the chiles then remove the stems and seeds. This is wrong. First you should remove the stems and seeds, then soak them. First, the seeds are much easier to remove when the chiles are dry. Second, the whole chiles don’t rehydrate well, so it’s better if they’re cut, even into large pieces, before soaking. So remove stems and seeds and soak chiles in warm water for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, mince your garlic and measure out your salt and spices.

Once your chiles are nice and soft, drain them and toss them in your blender or food processor. Add the minced garlic and the salt along with the two tablespoons of olive oil. Whir. Add the spices and keep on blending until you have a nice puree. My chiles still seemed a bit dry so I added a teaspoon or two of water to help the mixture blend. I felt like my garlic cloves were overpowering my chiles, so I also tossed in a chipotle (previously in adobo, but I wiped the sauce off) from the fridge. In retrospect I would have used more dried chiles, but I didn’t want to wait for more to soak.

homemade harissa

That’s it. Harissa!

Store the paste in a jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.

It’s potent. I just about melted off my eyebrows washing the food processor. WHEW!

homemade harissa


Adapted from About.com
Yields about 1/3 cup chili paste

10-12 dried red chili peppers
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground caraway
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1.) Remove stems and seeds from chili peppers. Soak them in warm water for at least 30 minutes.

2.) Mince garlic. Combine garlic, soaked peppers, salt, and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Process until combined. Add spices and blend until a smooth paste is formed.

3.) Use immediately, or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.

homemade harissa

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Bridget February 20, 2010 at 10:07 am

I am EXACTLY the same way – I made ricotta for the first time last week because I had milk and lemon juice and didn’t want to go to the store. I’ve also made mayonnaise at the last minute when I thought I had some but didn’t.


stacy February 20, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Mm, ricotta. I need to make that.

I had a lone egg yolk in the fridge and we don’t really use much mayo, so it made more sense to make it than buy a whole jar! Right?


Amy February 24, 2010 at 10:57 am

Harissa + eggs.
Amazingly delicious.


stacy February 24, 2010 at 3:57 pm

After reading your comment I tossed maybe 1/2 teaspoon of harissa between some sauteed greens and some poached eggs and just about rolled my eyes back in my head. Thank you for making my “brunch” full of win!


NorthBay May 18, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I love harissa and have made it several times now. The only thing I find is that I cannot get the rehydrated chiles to puree completely. There are always some little chunks of chile skin. Still tasty, but any ideas on how to puree better. I’ve tried the little Cuisanart chopper, the food processor and the blender. Same story. It may be not enough volume. Any ideas would be appreciated.


Stacy May 18, 2010 at 10:34 pm

I had a similar problem and I agree that it’s the small volume of a batch. What I did was add a little chipotle in adobo sauce and a little more oil, then I made sure to scrape under the food processor blade and whizzed the heck out of it. Sorry that’s not much help! Maybe next time I will try softening the chiles in boiling water to tenderize the skin more?


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