Today’s recipe for harissa paste is a culinary treasure from the world of North African Cuisine. This sensational chili paste is a vibrant combination of spicy chilis, sweet peppers, smoky spices, zesty garlic, and so much more.
Harissa paste is most often featured in recipes from Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, but this popular kitchen staple is also found in recipes throughout North Africa. This fiery red sauce can be found in everything from egg recipes to meat dishes to cold vegetable salads and more.
It is used both as a seasoning for recipes and as a condiment served alongside dishes. Once you master this simple recipe, a whole new world of possibilities will open up. Get excited! Watch my video below to see how I make this!
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.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Red Chilis – Chili de arbol peppers are spicy, nutty, and a little bit grassy. Seek out this variety for the most authentic harissa flavor or sub in another variety of red chili.
- Red Bell Pepper – Adds a bright, tangy, and sweet pepperiness, plus a deep smoky flavor, once charred.
- Cumin Seeds – Add earthy, warm, and slightly nutty tones. Ground cumin can be used in lieu of seeds.
- Coriander Seeds – Bring a sweet, curry-like flavor with a hint of citrus. Ground spice will also work.
- Garlic – Contributes sharp, zesty, and pungent flavor.
- Smoked Paprika – Offers a dash of smoky, spicy-sweet flavor.
- White Vinegar – Provides an added pop of lively acidity.
- Orange Water – Adds a delicate, fruity, and perfume-like essence to the mix. Rose water will work as well. Look for either in the international food aisle at your supermarket.
- Orange Zest – Bright, tangy and citrusy, orange zest adds the flavor of sunshine to everything it touches. Lemon or lime zest will work in a pinch.
HOW TO MAKE MOROCCAN HARISSA PASTE
- Soak the Chilis. Remove the stems from the dried red chili peppers and add them to a saucepan with boiling water. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and place a saucer or bowl on top of the chilis to keep them fully submerged. Set aside and let them soak for 30 minutes.
- Peel the Zest. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the zest from the orange. You are aiming for a 4-inch by 1-inch piece.
- Toast the Seeds. Being careful not to burn them, toast the cumin coriander seeds until they become fragrant. Let the seeds cool, transfer them to a spice grinder, and pulse them into a fine powder.
- Blacken the Pepper. Use the broiler in your oven or an open flame to blacken and char the red bell pepper all over. Place the charred pepper in a bowl and immediately cover it with plastic wrap. The trapped steam will help the skin come off more easily. Once the pepper is cool enough to touch, remove and discard the charred skin, veins, stems, and seeds.
- Blend the Ingredients. Transfer the pepper to a food processor or blender and add in the garlic cloves, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, salt, oil, vinegar, orange/rose water, and the strip of orange zest. Puree together until a loose paste forms.
- Add Red Chilis. Drain the red chilis and squeeze to remove excess water. Add the chilis to the food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Puree into a smooth paste.
How Do You Use Moroccan Harissa Paste?
Harissa paste is used in a wide variety of dishes throughout North Africa. Here are a few examples of ways to enjoy this charming chili paste:
- Try out harissa’s classic namesake dish, Harissa Chicken, or other chicken dishes like this Moroccan Chermoula Chicken.
- Use some to spice up pasta night with these Spicy Tunisian Beef Meatballs.
- Stir some into soups and stews like this Lamb Tagine or Moroccan Chicken Stew.
- Incorporate into your next batch of scrambled eggs or make a Moroccan Shakshuka for a spicy breakfast feast.
- Add a blast of flavor to any of your favorite vegetable dishes. I recommend giving this Chilled Moroccan Carrot Salad a try.
Note of caution!
The aroma of harissa paste can literally take your breath away, especially when you first remove the blender lid.
Is Harissa Hot and Spicy?
Yes! Chock full of chili peppers, red bell peppers, paprika, and other spices, harissa paste undoubtedly has a bit of a kick to it. Although each batch will vary slightly, in general, I’d describe the heat level as medium-hot. Not for the faint of heart!
Don’t be intimidated, though. In addition to spicy heat, harissa is also deep, smoky, tangy, zesty, and bright! If you have a sensitive palate, start with a small amount of the chili paste and adjust from there.
How to Store Harissa Paste
Moroccan harissa paste can be stored in the refrigerator, in an airtight container. For maximum flavor and freshness, it is best used within a month or so.
If you won’t use it that quickly, freezing is an option too. Upon thawing, the paste will be a bit watery, but don’t be alarmed. A quick stir or a few pulses in the food processor or an immersion blender, and your harissa will be as good as new.
This recipe post, originally published on Silk Road Recipes January 2021, was updated with new content, photos and/or video in May 2023.
Moroccan Harissa Paste
- 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 1/2 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 is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.