Harissa

If any of you has noticed, I’ve been into a bit of name-calling lately. Namely, sauces, or condiments, from chimichurri, to tapenade, to romesco to charmoula. I more recently made a red chimichurri. To me, condiments make the world go ’round, and my life of eating revolves around them. I love them all.

Today I’m making harissa. It’s flavorful and versatile, and just like other global sauces and condiments, it’s easy to make. Furthermore, when made from scratch, it’s far superior in flavor.

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I actually think harissa might be my all-time favorite sauce. The base is roasted red bell peppers, so like its “cousin” romesco, it’s fabulous slathered on meats and breads with cheeses. But harissa is also spicy, which puts it over the top for me.

The sauce originates from North Africa, which is probably why there are so many similarities between it and romesco. I’m not a food historian, but I know that the southern tip of Spain almost touches the northern tip of Africa. So I’m sure there’s been all kinds of sharing of ingredients and spices over the centuries of food trading. Tunisia is actually the country with which harissa is most commonly associated.

When I decided to make harissa from scratch, I found so many variations, not surprisingly, that I just came up with my own recipe, and this is what I’m posting today. I can’t possibly test out and taste all of the versions, but I can tell you that my adaptation is near perfection.

What is exciting is all of the potential uses for this sauce. Today I made up a little cumin-spiced lamb burger and used the harissa with mayonnaise for a lovely spicy condiment. But of course it can be used as is as well, on meats of any kind.

Harissa can also be added to vegetables, stews and soups, risottos, and so many more dishes. As long as the harissa shines. You want to taste this stuff because it’s that good.

So here’s what I did:

Harissa
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 roasted red bell peppers from a jar*
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 small purple onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup scant olive oil

First drain the red bell peppers well in a small colander.

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Next, place the seeds in a seed toaster.

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Toast them on the stove; this will only take about 30 seconds so watch the toaster carefully. (Alternatively use a small skillet topped with a screen so that you can keep an eye on things.)

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Let them cool for a second, then place them in a small mortar. Grind them and set aside.

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Heat some of the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Have your onions and garlic ready to cook.

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Saute them for about 6-7 minutes; you want some caramelization on them.

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Set the skillet aside and let the onions and garlic cool slightly.

Meanwhile, place the well-drained roasted red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the ground seasoning mix, the tomato paste, the crushed red pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

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Then add the cooled onion and garlic.

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Add the remaining olive oil and begin processing. After a little bit, you will need to scrape down the sides of the jar and process further.

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Process for about another minute. The mixture will be smooth, but still have a little texture to it.

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As I mentioned above, I wanted to make a mayonnaise with the harissa today, to complement a lamb burger I was craving. So I simply mixed 1/2 harissa and 1/2 mayo together in a little bowl.

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Simply whisk the mayo and harissa together.
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And that’s it!

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I served it at room temperature with my lamb burger.

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When I mixed together the harissa and mayonnaise, the beautiful red color disappeared. But what doesn’t go away is the fabulous harissa flavor profile – roasted red bell peppers, the lovely seasonings, onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper.

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* You could also roast your own red bell peppers and peel off the skin, but I truly love the soft texture of jarred roasted red bell peppers. It’s your choice.

By Published On: February 17th, 201463 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

63 Comments

  1. manonlesko February 17, 2014 at 8:06 AM - Reply

    Looks delicious! Great work as always :)

  2. thesinglegourmetandtraveller February 17, 2014 at 8:07 AM - Reply

    Wonderful. I’ve never made my own but now I know I should!

  3. The Burlap Kitchen February 17, 2014 at 8:23 AM - Reply

    This looks really good!

  4. Kristi Kaiser February 17, 2014 at 8:41 AM - Reply

    Wow Mimi! This looks fantastic! I’ve never made it myself, but this gives me encouragement to try it! Kristi @ Inspiration Kitchen

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 8:53 AM - Reply

      It is so worth it! Thanks for your nice comment!

  5. tinywhitecottage February 17, 2014 at 9:15 AM - Reply

    Recently picked up a jar of harissa and although it was lovely it was quite expensive. Looks easy enough to make and I bet it taste even better. Great post Mimi! Thank you for sharing the recipe. I love condiments too, they really do make the world go round. :)

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 9:38 AM - Reply

      I’ve used Harissa from a jar, too, and it’s just not the same. Which isn’t surprising!

  6. indusinternationalkitchen February 17, 2014 at 9:29 AM - Reply

    Mimi, Your recipe looks great! I recently made Harissa too but the recipe did not include tomatoes and yours does. Next time I will try your recipe! And what a great idea to mix it with Mayo for the burger.!

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 9:38 AM - Reply

      Its so much better home-made, isn’t it? And with the mayo is was spectacular!

      • indusinternationalkitchen February 17, 2014 at 9:41 AM

        Yes I agree. For that matter, everything tastes so much better homemade as compared to store bought! :)

  7. Debra Corliss Clark February 17, 2014 at 10:09 AM - Reply

    Good morning! This recipe looks really tasty & I look forward to trying it, thank you! Couple of quick questions – How long does it keep in the refrigerator and have you ever frozen it? Thank you!

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 1:55 PM - Reply

      Thanks! I’m pretty sure it would freeze well, but it’s just so easy to make, especially if you don’t bother toasting the seeds and use ground spices. As far as how long it lasts, I have no idea. It has always disappeared way to fast. I imagine one month, though, to be safe.

  8. Prudy Handelman February 17, 2014 at 11:29 AM - Reply

    I get such a kick out of you Mimi. You are a great cook and your blog is so entertaining. Love your variety. Today is my birthday and I woke up to your blog which put a smile on my face and zest in my step. Thanks for your amazing hard work and creativity. Just wish that I lived next door to you!! Yum!!
    xoPrudy Handelman

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 1:55 PM - Reply

      Aren’t you sweet!!! That’s such a nice comment that it brightened my day. Thank you.

  9. Peri's Spice Ladle February 17, 2014 at 12:27 PM - Reply

    You’ve sure been bringing out some favorites! love the spices in your Harissa recipe:) and its pretty simple too…

    • chef mimi February 21, 2014 at 2:34 PM - Reply

      Very simple and inexpensive. At least where I live, roasted red bell peppers in jars are fairly inexpensive. And you don’t need much!

  10. StefanGourmet February 17, 2014 at 1:08 PM - Reply

    Great post, Mimi. Home-made is best!

  11. emmabarrett1508 February 17, 2014 at 1:36 PM - Reply

    Looks gorgeous. I bet you make the best tangine’s. I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the ‘shine on award’. I left a message in your comments under the ‘About You’ section of your blog because I could not see a contact page. Emmaxx

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 1:58 PM - Reply

      Thank you . And THANK YOU!!! You’re too sweet.

  12. Elaine @ foodbod February 17, 2014 at 1:48 PM - Reply

    Lovely!!! Another one for me to make, thank you :)) x

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 1:57 PM - Reply

      You will thank me once you make this one!

      • Elaine @ foodbod February 17, 2014 at 2:19 PM

        I’m thanking you already!!! And planning my shopping list for tomorrow…;)

  13. Phil @foodfrankly February 17, 2014 at 1:51 PM - Reply

    What a great combination. That harissa looks superb. Interesting you fry off the garlic (and onion) too, I always have done as I don’t like the raw taste (even in pesto)

    • chef mimi February 17, 2014 at 1:57 PM - Reply

      Hmmm. I like raw garlic, as long it’s mixed up with something, like pesto. If it sits too long it gets a nasty flavor from the oxidation, which is why I don’t even use jarred garlic, as convenient as that would be! Never thought about raw onions, though…

  14. Charlotte February 17, 2014 at 2:27 PM - Reply

    Nice detailed recipe.The pictures look lovely by the way!

    • chef mimi February 21, 2014 at 2:34 PM - Reply

      Thanks so much Charlotte! I keep trying!

  15. thepaddingtonfoodie February 17, 2014 at 2:45 PM - Reply

    Isn’t Harissa a wonderful ingredient. My teenage son loves it so much he uses it in his toasted sandwiches and has been known to mix up a batch in the food processor when we run out. I love all the different variations I think every Morrocan grandma has her own secret recipe. Yours looks absolutely divine. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Conor Bofin February 17, 2014 at 2:49 PM - Reply

    Lovely detail Mimi. The stand out thing is the seed toaster. I have to slave over a hot skillet to toast mine.

  17. My French Heaven February 17, 2014 at 3:16 PM - Reply

    I use harissa imported from Moroco when making lobster in American sauce. It is indeed delicious. I don’t know if they make it like you do. It can’t be that different. Great post and beautiful burger!!

    • chef mimi February 21, 2014 at 2:36 PM - Reply

      You’d have to look at the ingredients. I don’t have a jar on hand but I wasn’t that impressed the one time I bought jarred harissa. Different brands…

  18. Melisa R February 17, 2014 at 5:22 PM - Reply

    Can I just say, WOW!

  19. foxress February 17, 2014 at 7:10 PM - Reply

    Wow, that looks and sounds delicious!

    • chef mimi February 18, 2014 at 4:54 PM - Reply

      I could spread this stuff on everything!

  20. anotherfoodieblogger February 17, 2014 at 7:24 PM - Reply

    I’ve been quite informed by your “name-calling” Mimi! Keep ’em coming!

  21. Barbara Smith Gulino February 17, 2014 at 7:25 PM - Reply

    I love Harissa, although I have yet to make my own, but this was inspiration to do so!

    • chef mimi February 18, 2014 at 4:53 PM - Reply

      It’s nice that the ingredients are available and the making of it takes a few minutes! Thanks!

  22. apuginthekitchen February 17, 2014 at 7:34 PM - Reply

    I really like that you use red bell peppers and crushed red pepper that way I can control the heat, I am a wimp when it comes to heat, a little is fine with me but not too much. Love your recipe.

    • chef mimi February 21, 2014 at 2:36 PM - Reply

      You’d definitely have to cut back on the cayenne, then. My mouth definitely was burning, although I love that !

  23. The Literate Chef February 17, 2014 at 9:51 PM - Reply

    Thanks Chef, looks great! Good idea on the lamb burgers, now for some merguez sausage…

  24. saucygander February 18, 2014 at 8:06 AM - Reply

    Great! I’ve also looked at the thousands of harissa recipes and tried a couple. Will bookmark your recipe as I’m sure it’s delicious.

    • chef mimi February 18, 2014 at 4:52 PM - Reply

      I’ve only tried jarred harissa, and mine. And I can honestly say that mine was terrific!

  25. DellaCucinaPovera February 18, 2014 at 1:14 PM - Reply

    Also just discovered Harissa! Never thought to make it at home though… well done :) Looks delicious!!

    • chef mimi February 18, 2014 at 4:43 PM - Reply

      It’s so easy and good. I could brush it on everything!

  26. ChgoJohn February 18, 2014 at 5:28 PM - Reply

    Thank you for this, Mimi. I’ve seen recipes for Harissa and the ingredients would send me on a scavenger hunt. I usually buy it from a shop that makes it on-site for quite a few of the restaurants in town. It’s very good but I’d love to make my own. I can and will now. :)

    • chef mimi February 19, 2014 at 9:06 AM - Reply

      Hmmm. Well I’m pretty sure what you can buy that’s made on site should be pretty top notch! But it would be way less expensive, most likely, to try it out at home. No exotic ingredients included!!!

  27. LFFL February 19, 2014 at 4:43 AM - Reply

    Wow that looks great! Great shots of the burger. I’ve never heard of harissa before.

    • chef mimi February 19, 2014 at 9:05 AM - Reply

      Try it sometime. You’ll think you went to heaven!

  28. theundergroundgourmet February 19, 2014 at 6:07 AM - Reply

    This sauce is nice. I make also a sauce called harissa, hot sauce or paste from the maghreb and it is labour intensive using a grinder. The ingredients are somewhat different and you definitely could not spread so much on a burger. Cheers nice post

  29. Amanda February 19, 2014 at 12:59 PM - Reply

    What a great recipe, Mimi. I love harissa and have not ventured into making my own yet. Thank you for this!

    • chef mimi February 21, 2014 at 2:37 PM - Reply

      Well, I had never either, but I’m now glad I did. No more jarred harissa for me!

  30. Cecile February 20, 2014 at 4:48 PM - Reply

    I’m sooo excited! I asked for – and received – a beautiful tangine for Christmas!! So many Moroccan or Tunisian recipes call for Harissa – and now you’ve provided me with an excellent recipe. Thanks !!!

    • chef mimi February 21, 2014 at 2:27 PM - Reply

      I hope you use your tagine more than I have used mine. But it’s definitely a fun new kitchen toy!

      • Cecile February 22, 2014 at 12:37 PM

        I am ‘hoping’ to use mine tomorrow!! ; o ) I’ve already had my tangine for two months…. It’s beautiful – white with blue designs, which looks very nice in my ‘redone’ kitchen’.. so now I have to DO something with it besides just admiring it !!

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