Harissa – Recipe for Spicy Middle Eastern Chili Garlic Sauce on ToriAvey.com
Attention, pepperheads! I love to spice things up in my kitchen, and there is no fiery condiment I love more than harissa. This North African garlic chili pepper sauce is a must for serving alongside savory foods. From soups to stews to roasted chicken to savory couscous, harissa adds a serious kick to anything it touches. I always have it in my kitchen, and not a meal goes by that we don’t have a dish of harissa at the table.
Harissa has roots in North Africa and the Maghreb. The sauce has spread throughout the Middle East, where it is very popular and made in a variety of ways. The basic ingredients are usually the same– fiery red chili peppers, garlic, and spices. Olive oil may be added to thin out the mixture (a thin layer of oil is added before storage to keep it fresh), and lemon juice is often in the mix to help preserve the sauce and brighten things up a bit. Sometimes green herbs are added, like parsley and cilantro, but green harissa is less common than red. The texture can vary from thick and paste-like to soft and saucy.
You can purchase harissa in jars or in the refrigerated section of any Middle Eastern market. Several gourmet markets carry it too, but I much prefer to make my own. Making it at home is less expensive, and it allows me to control the flavor/heat level to taste. I love toasting the whole spices and grinding them for freshest flavor. I add a few slightly unusual ingredients to my harissa– bell peppers, tomato paste and chipotle. The bell peppers and tomato paste are added for a bit of sweetness, which helps to balance the very spicy pepper flavor. Chipotle, a Southwestern pepper, adds a bit of smokiness to the mix that my family finds irresistible. If you prefer a less smoky harissa, I’ve provided a substitution below. I roast all of the peppers (except the chipotle) for a deeper, more complex flavor and a more saucy texture.
If you like spicy foods, I encourage you to give this homemade harissa a try. It is well worth the effort, totally addictive. Seriously. I put it on everything, except ice cream. Enjoy!
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- 2 whole red bell peppers
- 7 whole Fresno chili peppers they look like red jalapeños (you may substitute 5 red serrano peppers)
- 2 dried chipotle peppers adds a slight smoky flavor - if you do not want it smoky, substitute 3 additional fresh Fresno chilis
- 8 cloves garlic divided
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus more for storing
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil. Place the bell peppers and Fresno chili peppers on the sheet along with 4 of the garlic cloves. Place in the oven and let the peppers and garlic roast for 10 minutes.
- Cover the dried chipotle peppers with very hot water in a small bowl. Let the chipotles soak while you prepare the other ingredients.
- After roasting for 10 minutes, turn the Fresno chill peppers and garlic cloves with tongs. Continue to roast for another 10 minutes until Fresno chilis are soft and collapsing.
- Take the Fresno chills and garlic cloves off the baking sheet with tongs and set aside.
- Turn the bell peppers over with tongs and continue to roast in the oven for another 20 minutes.
- While bell peppers are roasting, pour the spice seeds into a pan and heat over medium, stirring constantly, for a few minutes until they are toasted and fragrant (watch carefully so they don’t burn).
- As soon as the seeds are toasted, remove them from the skillet and pour into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Grind the spices to a powder. Reserve.
- When the bell peppers are soft and collapsing with the skin blackened in places, remove from the oven. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap or foil, and let the peppers steam for 5-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, stem and seed the Fresno chills (if a few seeds cling to the peppers it's ok). Wear gloves during this process to protect your skin from the capsaicin and a burning sensation. Remove and discard any loose pieces of the thin, blackened pepper skin. Reserve the seeds.
- When the bell peppers have steamed for a few minutes, stem and seed them. Peel off the charred skin. Discard the skin, stem and seeds. Drain the soaked chipotles and chop them into small pieces.
- Place the roasted peppers in a food processor along with the 4 roasted and 4 raw garlic cloves, ground spices, tomato paste, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and chopped soaked chipotles.
- Process the ingredients, scraping the sides of the food processor periodically, until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add a little more olive oil for a more liquid texture, if desired. The mixture will be very spicy as written, but if you want to take it over the top you can add in some of the reserved Fresno pepper seeds and process again (use gloves). The seeds are extremely spicy, so add with care! Note: if you want to do this the old fashioned way, you can pulverize the mixture together using a large mortar and pestle. This will give you a chunkier, more traditional texture.
- Serve harissa as an accompaniment to meat dishes, couscous, soups and stews, or anyplace you want a spicy kick.
- When ready to store, place in a sealed container and top with a thin layer of olive oil (this helps to preserve the sauce). Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.