Easy DIY Harissa Paste

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Bowl of our Harissa Paste recipe on a metal tray with garlic in the background

Have you ever seen a recipe that called for “harissa paste,” but weren’t sure what it was? I’ve been there.

In my earlier days of cooking I used to either skip it altogether, or substitute with whatever hot sauce I had on hand.

Fast forward to now, and I use harissa paste — a North African spicy red sauce — all the time. It consists of simple ingredients like red chilies, garlic, vinegar, and spices, and is perfect for adding smokiness and heat to dishes like hummus, lentil chili, pasta sauce, and more.

I typically buy harissa at the store, but recently have wanted to make my own so I could control the spice level — some can be quite hot, which throttles how much you can add to your meal. Let me show you how easy it is to make fresh harissa paste (and adjust the heat to your liking) at home in just 30 minutes!

Cutting board with dried chiles, spices, garlic, oil, and lemon

What is Harissa Paste?

Harissa is a hot chili paste that originated in Tunisia, North Africa. It is commonly used as a dip or marinade, or to add to dishes like stews to add vibrant red color and heat. Chili peppers were originally imported to Tunisia in the 16th century during the Spanish occupation, and shortly thereafter harissa quickly became a staple part of Tunisian (and Middle Eastern) cuisine (source).

What is Harissa Paste Made Of?

The ingredients for harissa paste are pretty simple- red chilies, garlic, oil, an acid (we used vinegar & lemon juice), and spices.

The two ingredients you may not have on hand are dried chilies — which most grocery stores carry, and are easy to find online (links below) — and caraway seeds, which add a mild licorice flavor. Caraway seeds are a common ingredient in harissa paste, but if you don’t have them, fret not — simply leave them out or compensate with more of the other spices.

How to Make Harissa Paste

First, rehydrate your chilies in hot water, then remove the stems and seeds. While that’s happening, toast your whole cumin and coriander seeds and grind in a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, simply add to a food processor to blend later.

Showing how to remove the seeds from soaked peppers
Overhead image of smoked paprika being shaken into a grey mortar and pestle

Next you’ll add smoked paprika, salt, and garlic, and mix again, before adding lemon juice and vinegar and mixing into a paste.

Whole spices being ground in a mortar and pestle for making Harissa Paste

Once all of your ingredients are added to the food processor, blend into a smooth paste. Add olive oil near the end to create a creamy, smooth sauce. If avoiding oil, either omit or sub water for a similar effect.

Overhead image of soaked deseeded peppers in a food processor
Food processor filled with our freshly blended Harissa Paste

We hope you LOVE this sauce! It’s:

Smoky
Spicy
Customizable
Versatile
& Incredibly delicious

Harissa can be added to dishes like my Moroccan-Spiced Eggplant & Tomato Stew, Saucy Moroccan-Spiced Lentils, and Smoky Harissa Eggplant Dip. But it’s great for adding depth of flavor, nuance, and smoky spice to just about any dish, including hummus, salad dressings, pasta sauce, soups, and more!

More DIY Sauces and Spices

If you’re into DIY sauces and spices, you’ll also love our Hummus from Scratch, Easy Green Curry Paste, Easy Red Curry Paste, Easy Oil-Free Vegan Ranch Dressing, and DIY Curry Powder!

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!

Stirring a bowl of Harissa Paste on a cutting board next to ingredients used to make it

Easy DIY Harissa Paste

How to make harissa paste in less than 30 minutes! Enjoy using this North African spicy red sauce to add heat to dressings, sauces, soups, and more!
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Tray with a bowl of Easy DIY Harissa Paste
5 from 13 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8 (2-Tbsp Servings)
Course Sauce
Cuisine Gluten-Free, North African-Inspired, Vegan
Freezer Friendly 2 Months
Does it keep? 1 Month

Ingredients

  • 10 dried New Mexico chiles (or other large dried chile with mild-to-medium spiciness)
  • 7 dried chiles de arbol (increase for more heat, decrease for less heat)
  • 1 Tbsp (heaping) cumin seeds (or sub slightly less ground // if using ground, skip the toasting step)
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds (or sub slightly less ground // if using ground, skip the toasting step)
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (not essential, but added to most traditional harissa)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste (or sub finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (if avoiding oil, sub water or omit)

Instructions

  • Add dried chilies to a mixing bowl or measuring cup and cover with hot water. (We used a mix of mild New Mexico chiles and hot peppers (chiles de arbol). Adjust the ratio to preferred spice level.) Once submerged, cover and steam for 15-20 minutes to rehydrate. Set aside.
  • In the meantime, add cumin and coriander seeds to a small skillet and toast over medium heat for a few minutes, or until fragrant and they start to pop. Then transfer to a mortar and pestle (if you don’t own one, just add to a food processor to mix later), and crush into a fine powder.
  • Next add caraway seeds, minced garlic, smoked paprika, and salt, and mix. Then add lemon juice and vinegar and mix again until you’ve achieved a paste. Transfer paste to food processor and add the tomato paste. Set aside.
  • Once chiles are rehydrated, drain and remove the stems and seeds (I recommend wearing gloves to protect your hands), then add to food processor. At this point, all ingredients (besides olive oil) should be in the food processor.
  • Blend for 1-2 minutes, scraping down sides as needed until a smooth paste is achieved. Then stream in 1/4 cup olive oil while blending to create a saucier consistency (see photo). (Add more oil (or water) as needed until desired consistency is achieved.)
  • Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more lemon or vinegar for acidity, paprika for smokiness, tomato paste for depth of flavor, or salt to taste. If it’s not spicy enough at this point, you can either add more chiles de arbol (rehydrated and seeds removed) or cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Scoop paste into a jar to store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. If storing in the freezer, we recommend scooping into an ice cube tray, freezing, and storing in a freezer-safe container up to 2 months. Add cubes directly to warm foods (like stews or cooked sauces). If adding to cold foods (like dressings or dips), let thaw before adding.

Video

Notes

*Adapted from Bon Appetit. Find a more traditional version here!
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate.

Nutrition (1 of 8 servings)

Serving: 1 two-Tbsp servings Calories: 123 Carbohydrates: 9.8 g Protein: 1.8 g Fat: 8.3 g Saturated Fat: 1 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.8 g Monounsaturated Fat: 5.1 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 266 mg Potassium: 52 mg Fiber: 4.2 g Sugar: 2.9 g Vitamin A: 11500 IU Vitamin C: 3.3 mg Calcium: 20 mg Iron: 1.3 mg

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  1. Anna Sansom says

    Just made this using a mix of dried hot chillies (no idea what ones) & Chipotle chillies. Also added half a red onion. Absolutely delicious & easy to adjust the heat.

  2. LisaBP says

    I love this recipe and always have this on hand to make “One Pan Harissa Chicken.” I freeze what I don’t use, which doesn’t happen often! Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Sonia says

    I made this last night and it was absolutely delicious! I just want to check because I think I misunderstood the “(2-Tbsp Servings)” next to the servings calculator (and I made too little); is a single serving = 2 tbsp harissa paste?

  4. Cindy Chin Sang says

    Wowsers! This is so delicious! Thanks so much for the recipe. I only had some Indian dried whole chillies, and limes so used those and it tastes amazing. I have just been eating it straight out of the blender!

  5. Heather Hankinson says

    I don’t know how you feel about posting other recipes, but I used this sauce with this chicken Shawarma recipe and this tzatziki sauce. Absolutely incredible ❤️

  6. Heather Hankinson says

    I made this with no modifications other than adding more lemon juice and smoked paprika to taste. Question though. Is there enough acidity in this recipe to home can this in a water bath? Or would I need to increase the vinegar, add sugar and tomatoes? I saw a similar recipe that didn’t look as good as this one for home canning, but I like this version better and would want to send it to friends.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Heather, we haven’t tried canning, so we’re not sure! Let us know if you try it!

      • Heather Hankinson says

        I have learned that I cannot water Beth can this recipe, but I CAN pressure can it!!

        So I bought a pressure canner. I’ve been water bath canning only so far, but am inspired by this flavor to take my canning game to the next level.

  7. Holly A Dodson says

    I made your Harissa recipe and oh my gosh it ROCKS!!! I had no idea what Harissa was supposed to taste like but this blew my socks off!! How can I have gone my whole life and never had these flavors in my mouth!!! I am dying to try this on EVERYTHING. Thank you so much!! My taste buds applaud!!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Whoop! We’re so glad you enjoy it, Holly! Thanks so much for the lovely review!

  8. R says

    Hi Dana,

    I can’t wait to try this recipe!

    A quick question – can I leave the seeds in the dried chillies or should I absolutely get rid of them?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      We recommend removing them, but it might be okay if you don’t. Let us know if you try it!

  9. Chau Nguyen says

    I did not have any whole dry chilies at home, so substituted them with dry chilies flakes. It turned out really well. I am looking forward to making it again with the “real deal chilies”. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Thanks so much for the lovely review, Chau. We are so glad you enjoyed it! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating with your review? It’s super helpful for us and other readers. Thanks so much! Xo

  10. Purvi says

    This recipe is legit! I was looking for a Harissa paste recipe because it’s not always easy for us to find it in store and Amazon hasn’t been consistent in sending what we’ve liked in the past. Anyway, we followed this to a tee – and added more tomato paste, vinegar and lemon juice as indicated to achieve the right consistency. This upgraded our homemade falafel night 100%. Thank you!

  11. Pam Vojtas says

    We’re under ‘lock down’, but I have a recipe that calls for Harissa Paste. A have all of the spices, but only have dried Japones (super spicy chili peppers). Any ideas on how to adjust the recipe so I don’t catch fire :) ?

  12. Jessica Chavez says

    Thank you, this was perfect I’m in New
    Mexico so I used the fresh red chili’s wE are known for and this recipe came out perfect!

    Also, FYI the oil you use at the end is for freshness!! You can make this paste and keep it in the fridge up to a Month, IF you use the oil, so with substituting water I would say only sub. If you don’t plan on saving any of it…

  13. Noah says

    Holy smokes – this harissa is delicious! I’ve never had it before, but it’s so good I kept dipping my finger in for taste after taste. I needed it as an ingredient for a chicken dish that I was making, but I think this harissa would be great slathered on bread. This recipe was easy to follow, and I’m sure I’ll make it again. Thank you Dana @minimalistbaker for posting this recipe! Now I have to find more uses for this oh-so-tasty paste.
    By the way, I highly recommend using this to make a tagine. I recently bought the cookbook “From Oven to Table” by Diana Henry, and the Chicken with Prunes, Potatoes, Cauliflower, and Harissa recipe was to die for. You’ll need to find or make preserved lemons. I made my own by following Joshua Weissman’s recipe for preserved lemons on YouTube, and they turned out great.

  14. Shari Denker says

    I’m wondering how long will this keep refrigerated or as with chipotle pepper sauce leftovers, can you freeze flat in ziplock? Thanks!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Shari, this will keep about 1 month in the fridge or 2 (or more) months in the freezer. We like to freeze in ice cube trays and then transfer to a sealed container. Hope that helps!

  15. BarbiAnne says

    Dana
    Question …. after making this and putting it in small mason jars, I was wondering if after using desired amount, are we supposed to top w/ more olive oil to keep it moist like the store bought kind before closing lid and strong in fridge??

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi BarbiAnne, we haven’t tried that, but you could certainly do that to increase freshness!

  16. Mark M Hopkins says

    Thank you, I love food, learned to cook at my mother’s knee, trying more now that I’m retired, never heard of harissa, took me three batches to get it ‘serivable’ with Ack-muk crackers and a Cake Bread Cab Sav!
    Really enjoyed the artical, recipe was difficult but vid really helped, thanks
    Mark Hopkins

  17. Sierra says

    Sooo good! My family doesn’t do heat so I left out the chiles but made the remaining recipe as written. Awesome addition to homemade street cart chicken. I’d been hoping to use the leftovers as a marinade for pork chops but the sauce magically disappeared within 24 hours. Will absolutely make this again, and often! Thanks.

  18. Rachel says

    I LOVE this recipe. I have now made this several times and it never lasts in our house. We use it for pasta, zoodles, sandwiches and dip. Love it. Wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you so mich for sharing!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Shannon! Stored in the refrigerator, it will last for up to 1 month. If storing in the freezer, we recommend scooping into an ice cube tray, freezing, and storing in a freezer-safe container up to 2 months. Hope this helps!

  19. Amy says

    I would love a quick write up on how you use this in your simple pasta recipe–the one you posted on your Instagram story! Thank you!

  20. Heather Taylor says

    Hi Dana,
    This recipe looks really interesting but my family don’t really like spicy, hot food, is it possible to make this with red bell peppers?
    Many thanks
    Heather

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Heather,

      We are not sure this would work with fresh bell peppers as the recipe uses the dried form of chilies. If you could find dried bell peppers, there’s a better chance it could work, but we haven’t tried it. If you decide to give it a try, we would love to hear how it goes!