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!
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.
Next you’ll add smoked paprika, salt, and garlic, and mix again, before adding lemon juice and vinegar and mixing into a 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.
We hope you LOVE this sauce! It’s:
& 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 try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!
Easy DIY Harissa Paste
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.