How to Make Harissa

Create the thick, tangy, deep-red chili paste at home with this recipe

Harissa is a thick, tangy, deep-red chili paste, a familiar condiment across North Africa that came to Israel via the Tunisians, Libyans, Algerians, and Moroccans. You can buy harissa at the store, and if there’s a brand that you already know you like, feel free to use it. Making it yourself, though, gives you the chance to use the best spices and peppers. 

At Shaya, we stir in some of the olive oil by hand so that it doesn’t perfectly emulsify. That gives you versatility: you can use the whole sauce, or skim off some of the hot oil from the top. If you can’t find guajillo peppers, use four additional ancho peppers.


Yield: about 1 cup 

  • Water, for the peppers 
  • 15 dried árbol chili peppers 
  • 2 dried guajillo chili peppers 
  • 1 dried ancho chili pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds

  • 1 ½ teaspoons whole coriander seeds

  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed 
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice 
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon Morton kosher salt

  • 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste 
  • ¾ cup olive oil, divided 

1. Fill a small saucepan with water, and bring it to a boil. Add all the dried peppers, and remove from the heat. Cover, and steep for at least 1 hour, or until the water has completely cooled.

2. Strain the peppers and, with a paring knife, trim away the stems and split them lengthwise. Scrape away their seeds and any of the stringy pith inside; wearing latex gloves will keep your fingertips from burning. Be sure to get rid of all the seeds and pith, or else the harissa will be crazy spicy. Add to the bowl of a food processor, and set aside. 

3. Toast the cumin and coriander in a small skillet over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until you start to smell them. Crush them with a mortar and pestle, or in a ziplock bag with a meat mallet, to release all their aromas. 

4. Add the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, paprika, and tomato paste to the peppers in the food processor, and combine. Once everything is blitzed together, stream in 1⁄2 cup olive oil.

5. Scrape the sauce into a container, and stir in the remaining 1⁄4 cup olive oil by hand. This last addition lingers on the surface and absorbs all the flavors around it. Harissa keeps for months in the fridge, and once you start using it, you’ll find it has a home on just about everything. With its smoky heat, it’s one of the best “hot sauces” around. 

Categories: High Points