Moroccan harissa is a fiery hot chili paste; not for the faint of heart! Make this recipe to add bold flavor to your favorite African foods.
Harissa is a North African chili paste or sauce, commonly used in Tunisian and Moroccan cuisine.
Although the primary ingredients are unassuming; chili peppers, bell peppers and paprika, it is a fiery red sauce!
Harissa sauce recipes can vary according to household and regional preferences. Variations often include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and/or lemon juice.
For those who prefer a little less heat, there is a milder version of Moroccan harissa that includes green chili peppers.
Most often, it is served as a condiment with Tunisian dishes, particularly meat dishes like lamb tagine and of course, it's namesake dish, harissa chicken.
Though most closely associated with Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, it is a standard ingredient in most all North African cuisine.
Video: Making harissa paste
Moroccan harissa is quick and easy to make! Just soak the dried chiles and blend in a food processor with African spices and some orange blossom water.
To see the process from start to finish, watch the video located in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
1. Soak the dried chili peppers (chiles de arbol peppers).
First, remove the stems from the dried red chili peppers. To prevent the chili oils from burning your skin or eyes if rubbed, I highly recommend that you use rubber or latex gloves for this step!
Bring a saucepan of water to boil and add the chiles. Simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, lay a saucer on top to submerge the chiles and allow them to soak for 30 minutes.
2. Prepare orange peel.
Now, you may think that peeling citrus fruit is easy to do, and truthfully, it is. However, for the best tasting harissa paste, it's important that you use JUST the peel, avoiding the bitter white pith on the underside of the peel.
How to remove pith from orange peels
There are two ways to do this:
OPTION ONE: Paring knife
Hold the slice of orange peel down on a cutting board, pith side up. Then, use the blade of your knife to gently scrape away any of the white pith.
OPTION TWO: Vegetable peeler
You can use a traditional swivel vegetable peeler, but to make things easier, I suggest using a wide vegetable peeler like this Y-peeler. It's easier to use a light touch with this peeler, making it easier to gently remove the peel from the orange.
3. Roast the bell peppers
If you're in a rush or you like the convenience, feel free to use jarred roasted peppers. Although, you and I both know that the flavor of freshly roasted peppers is better, right? 😉
As a bonus, your kitchen will smell amazing! If you don't have an open flame to use, you can also roast the peppers under an oven broiler.
They keep well in the refrigerator for a few days, so take advantage of the opportunity. I like to roast several at a time to use in dips or recipes like romesco sauce.
4. Remove excess liquid from the chili peppers.
Drain the water that the peppers are soaking in. Then squeeze as much excess liquid as possible from the peppers.
5. Puree the moroccan harissa.
Note of caution!
The aroma of harissa paste can literally take your breath away, especially when you first remove the blender lid.
Storing Moroccan harissa
Store the harissa paste in a container with a tight fitting lid. Keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a month or so.
It can be frozen, but will become watery after thawing. Either stir to recombine or pulse a few times in a food processor.
Moroccan Harissa (Chili Paste) + Video
- 2 oz dried red chiles (chiles de arbol)
- 1 large red bell pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
- 4 cloves garlic
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon orange water (or rose water)
- 1 orange (4 inch by 1 inch strip of the zest)
- Cut off the stems of the dried red chili peppers. Bring a saucepan of water to boil and add the chiles. Simmer for 2 minutes, covered. Turn off the heat (lay a saucer on top of chiles to submerge) and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
- Using a vegetable peeler, cut a 4 inch by 1 inch strip of the zest from an orange.
- Toast the cumin and coriander seeds until they start to give off their aroma, do not burn. Set aside. When cooled, place in spice grinder and pulse (See Note 1).
- Next, either over an open flame blacken the red bell pepper all over until charred or under the broiler. Place charred pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to steam so skin is easily removed. When cool enough to handle discard the stem, veins, seeds and charred skin (See Note 2). Place in a food processor or blender.
- To the food processor or blender add the garlic cloves, paprika, salt, cumin, coriander, oil, vinegar, orange/rose water and orange zest strip. Puree until it resembles a loose paste.
- Drain and squeeze excess water from red chiles, add to food processor or blender. Puree until it resembles a smooth paste.
- I prefer whole seeds to toast and bring out their essential oils, but feel free to use a heaping ½ teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander and proceed to Step 4.
- You can substitute a fire roasted, jarred large red bell pepper.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.