Harissa is a North African red chile paste or sauce made of a few simple ingredients including chiles, garlic, olive oil, citrus and a few warm spices.

This versatile harissa recipe is slightly sweet, smoky, tangy, and just enough spicy but not too hot. Make it ahead and use in many ways! Be sure to watch the video below.

homemade harissa in a small open jar. Dry chiles to the side

You've seen me use harissa spice blend in different recipes, but today we're going to chat about harissa sauce! This, along with my earlier toum garlic sauce, belong under versatile Mediterranean dips and condiments you'll find yourself using over and over again!

What is harissa?

I've heard people describe harissa as the ketchup or sriracha of North Africa and the Middle East.

It may be a red condiment that is as popular as ketchup because of the many way it is used and enjoyed. But comparing the two does not do harissa justice. Harissa is much more complex in flavor and all together addictive!

Originally from Tunisia, harissa is a chile sauce or paste typically made of dry red chiles, garlic, citrus, extra virgin olive oil and a few warm spices including cumin, coriander and caraway seeds.

And although you can find it at specialty grocery stores sold in jars or tins, homemade harissa is a completely different experience.

What does it taste like? This harissa sauce recipe is mild with just enough kick, sweet, smoky, and a little bit tangy. Absolutely addictive!

Making harissa at home is easier than most people think; be sure to watch the video below.

harissa paste stored in mason jar

What kind of chiles to use for harissa?

Each batch of homemade harissa sauce may taste slightly different than the other, depending on the kind of chiles used. And as a result, some can be fairly hot, while others are mild.

You can pretty much make harissa out of any dried red chile according to your own personal heat index.

Because I like to control the heat factor in my harissa paste, I like the idea of using New Mexico chiles, which are milder but offer enough of a kick (Cookbook author Paula Wolfert believes that Gujaillo and New Mexico chiles are closest to the peppers of Nabeul and Gabès in Tunisia).

You can absolutely use a combination of chile peppers. Need more heat? Add a couple of de arbol peppers. If you like a bit of smokiness, add chipotle chile.  

ingredients for homemade harissa sauce

What you need to make it:

When I tested my harissa paste recipe, it was important for me to find the perfect balance of spicy, sweet, smoky, and tangy all in one red chile paste, and the following ingredients did just that:

  • Dry red chiles (7 whole chiles). I prefer New Mexico chiles or Guajillo chiles which are milder (this allows me to add more heat as needed).
  • Roasted red peppers (6 ounces or 2 large roasted red peppers). Jarred peppers will work here, just drain them well. These will add sweetness and also support the texture of the harissa paste.
  • Tomato paste (2 tablespoons or so) for the umami factor.
  • Fresh garlic cloves. I usually use 4 cloves, but if you enjoy more garlic, go for it!
  • Spices. A combination of North African flavors from 2 teaspoons each coriander and cumin; 1 teaspoon caraway seeds toasted and ground (use a mortar and pestle, grinder, or food processor); 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (this adds depth and smokiness without adding more spice). I also use a pinch of cayenne pepper; start with ½ teaspoon and go from there.
  • Kosher salt
  • Citrus. Juice of 1 large lemon (do not skip this as it adds brightness and rounds out flavor).
  • Extra virgin olive oil. This is drizzled into the food processor as the rest of the ingredients are mixing together. Use a quality EVOO that you enjoy; I used Early Harvest Greek EVOO.

How to make harissa

Making harissa at home could not be simpler!

First, you'll soak the dry red chiles (whatever combination of chile peppers you selected) in hot water to rehydrate. If you don't rehydrate them, you can't exactly turn them into paste.

rehydrated new Mexico dry chiles

From there, seed the chiles and blend them in a food processor with the roasted red peppers, garlic, tomato paste, spices, and lemon juice.

chile peppers and rest of ingredients in the food processor

Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil as the ingredients are mixing until you arrive at a beautiful, slightly chunky paste. That's it!

harissa paste in the food processor

It's even better the next day!

You can use harissa sauce as soon as you make it, but if you refrigerate it and use it the next day or two, the flavors will meld well and create a much deeper chile paste you'll love!

Storage

I like to store my homemade harissa in the fridge in a tight lid mason jar. Adding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top will help seal it well. It typically lasts 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge.

You can also freeze it for later use (about a month or so).

Ways to use harissa

Once you make harissa paste at home, you'll find yourself using it in many different ways. Here are a few ideas:

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4.84 from 124 votes

Easy Harissa Recipe

Suzy Karadsheh
homemade harissa in a small open jar. Dry chiles to the side
Make this easy harissa paste with dried chiles, garlic, and warm North African spices and keep it in the fridge for use on meat, chicken, fish, or even veggies. You can also stir in a bit of harissa in your soups and stews or to add a little kick to your shakshuka or hummus!
Prep – 10 minutes
Cook – 0 minutes
Soak Time 30 minutes
Total – 10 minutes
Cuisine:
Mediterranean, North African
Serves – 24 tablespoons
Course:
Condiment, Sauce

Equipment

  • Food processor

Ingredients
  

  • 7 Dried New Mexico Chiles or Guajillo Chiles, or a combination of dried New Mexico Chiles and another kind of dried hot chiles such as de arbol or chipotle chiles
  • 6 oz jarred roasted red peppers, drained rinsed, and dried (2 large peppers)
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground (use a mortar and pestle, grinder or food processor)
  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Juice of 1 large lemon, 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon quality extra virgin olive oil, more for later

Instructions
 

  • Soak and prepare the dried chiles. Place the dried chiles in a heat-safe bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside for 30 minutes until the chiles are tender and re-hydrated. Drain the chiles and remove the stems and seeds.
  • Combine chiles with the remaining ingredients. Transfer the chiles to the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a blade. Add the tomato paste, roasted red peppers, garlic, ground caraway seeds, coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne (if using), and a large pinch of kosher salt. Add fresh lemon juice.
  • Make the harissa paste. Run the food processor, and while it’s running, drizzle the extra virgin olive oil from the top opening. Stop the processor to scrape down the sides and run again until you reach the desired paste-like texture. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking (remember that harissa paste will deepen in flavor as it sits in the fridge over the next day or two).
  • Store. Transfer the harissa paste to a clean mason jar. Cover with a very thin layer of extra virgin olive oil, then cover the jar with its lid tightly and refrigerate.

Video

Notes

  • This recipe makes about 1 ½ cups of harissa paste.  A serving size is 2 tablespoons.
  • Cook's Tip: You can use this homemade harissa paste as soon as you make it, but for best flavor allow it at least 1 to 2 days in the fridge.
  • Storage: Homemade harissa can last in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks, properly stored in a covered mason jar and the top the harissa paste covered with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil. You can use a little bit of the harissa paste at a time, but be sure to add a bit more extra virgin olive oil to cover the top before storing in the fridge again. 
  • Can you freeze it? Yes! You can freeze harissa paste for up to 1 month or so. Best to freeze individual smaller portions. 
  • Visit Our Shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients, including spices and extra virgin olive oil used in this recipe. 

Nutrition

Serving: 2tablespoonCalories: 13.4kcalCarbohydrates: 0.6gProtein: 0.1gFat: 1.3gSaturated Fat: 0.2gSodium: 11mgPotassium: 20.3mgFiber: 0.2gSugar: 0.2gVitamin A: 79.1IUVitamin C: 0.3mgCalcium: 3.7mgIron: 0.2mg
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I'm Suzy; born and bred right on the shores of the Mediterranean. I'm all about easy, healthy recipes with big Mediterranean flavors. Three values guide my cooking: eat with the seasons; use whole foods; and above all, share! So happy you're here...
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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I'm so grateful for this recipe! It's so easy to make, i already had all the spices at home and its much cheaper than the itty bitty jar i can get at the store.

    1. Hi, Julie. Peppers are pretty much the star ingredient of this recipe... there's not really a good substitute here, unfortunately.

  2. 5 stars
    This harissa recipe is absolutely amazing! I have bought what was considered a highly-rated store brand, but this recipe blows it away! I want to put it on everything now! I am stocking up on the peppers so I can make this recipe whenever I want more (which will be often). Thank you!

  3. 4 stars
    Packs a lotta heat! Made some for my slow cook morrocan beef tangine. A little dab will do ya. Perfect portion size in a small mason jar.

  4. We made a big batch since moving to a small city and unable to find any in store. Lucky to have the dried peppers! It was excellent in the lablabi we made it for and then used in some lupini bean dip also!

    I held back on the caraway and wish i hadnt! Next time though. Thank you!

  5. 5 stars
    Oh my oh my! Suzy, this is the BEST harissa recipe ever! I've made two batches of it, one I spooned out of the jar and ate every bit! Our local international market has stopped carrying a Tunisian brand I really liked. When I made this, it was far better than that canned stuff! So now I will make a double batch to get me through the week (wink wink). I love using harissa as a spread for sandwiches, as I cannot stand mayo. So versatile and SO very delicious! Thank you for sharing this spectacular recipe!!

  6. The caraway seeds were very overpowering. Is there any way to tone it down without just adding more of everything else? I have tried to add more lemon but it's still very strong and it's already really spicy, the way I like it, so I don't want to add more peppers or tomato paste

    1. Hi, Sarah! Caraway is a potent spice. You can reduce the amount by half and leave all of the other ingredients the same to suit your personal tastes.

  7. 5 stars
    Hi Suzy! I want to send you a BIG Thank You! for this AMAZING Harissa Recipe! I'm somewhat of a Harissa snob and when my go-to international market stopped carrying my fave brand, I literally cried. So, what to do? Go to the Mediterranean Dish and try Suzy's recipe. I had everything except the caraway seeds, so I just omitted it. IT IS PERFECT!!!! I seriously must have licked the food processor bowl clean with my fingers, it's so delicious. Now I'm going to skedaddle over to the market and purchase everything for maybe another three gallons! Thank you again for these amazing recipes. Mediterranean Dish is just about the only recipe site I use. You cannot go wrong with perfection! XO Janet

  8. I've read a few recipes for harissa that instruct you to reconstitute the dried peppers before seeding. Why not seed first then soak, seeding the peppers would be much easier dried then wet.

  9. 5 stars
    The way this recipe is presented, it is VERY difficult to import to a recipe database. But it sure looks and sounds good. Gave it five stars for the quantity of information.

    1. Just add a tablespoon of rosewater, which depending where you are, you can buy in Indian shops or perhaps a large supermarket. Some recipes call for actual rose petals too but I tried mine without as I didn't have any and it turned out fine.

  10. I have trouble with with hot foods which is why I make my own instead of restaurants. I make my own condiments as well. What are the mildest dried chilies. For me, I find I can eat Jalapenos if I have seeded and taken out the ribs carefully. I hate this problem because I know I'm missing out on a lot of great food.

    Thanks.

    1. Hi, Dave. It's just the way Suzy grew up making it. We have seen other recipes out there using fresh chilis, so that does seem to be an option, if you prefer. It's just not something we've tried ourselves.

  11. 5 stars
    I just made this last night and I could eat the whole batch by itself! It's going into a recipe, but I want to spread this on everything right now. Easy to make and completely delicious.

  12. 5 stars
    This was really delicious. I used New Mexico chiles and despite letting them sit for a few hours in warm water the skin was still a bit..not tender? Would also probably add chipotle to this as is suggested to get more of a smoky flavor. My background is Punjabi so I would definitely add more spice but my Iranian bf's flavor palette can't take as much heat haha so this recipe is perfect. Definitely recommend letting it sit for a day or two before having as mentioned. This recipe is a KEEPER!

    1. I had the same issue! They're really tough bits in the rehydrated peppers (I used guajillo) that I could not blend out. I tried twice, boiling the chilies the second time. Any advice??

      1. Hi, Brandy. I would suggest pushing your harissa through a strainer to remove any of those harder bits that didn't puree.