I have so many big hopes for you today, so let’s dive right in. First, I hope you’re making your own harissa paste. Second, I hope you have a favorite harissa paste recipe. And third (this one is key), I hope your favorite harissa paste recipe is your harissa paste recipe. If all of this is the case, then you are well on the path to the good life.
If you’re not making your own harissa, I hope you’re at least buying tubes and jars of the stuff and slathering on everything you eat. If not, that’s just really sad. There is still some good news though. It simply means that your life is highly susceptible to some very simple and fairly dramatic improvement. Just start eating harissa! Do it today. You’ll see what I mean. Harissa is pretty incredible stuff.
Designing Your Favorite Harissa Paste Recipe
To my mind harissa paste is an essential Mediterranean pantry item. If you keep it on hand you’ll find yourself reaching for it constantly. In North African Mediterranean countries it’s as ubiquitous as salsa or ketchup is in the US. But it’s arguably far more versatile than ketchup or salsa. It’s both a flavor enhancer for sauces, stocks, and soups, and a condiment used straight up.
Do you like hummus? Harissa hummus is better. Do you like tahini dressing? Harissa tahini dressing is better. Peanut butter? Mac and cheese? Pizza sauce? Hamburgers? French fries? Corn on the cob? Baked beans? All are improved by the addition of a bit of harissa.
Want more inspiration? Well I just so happen to have this Maple-Harissa Salmon recipe parked right here, and also this Harissa-Maple Glazed Baby Summer Squash recipe (harissa and maple go really well together by the way).
There is no shortage of harissa paste recipes available online, so I’m not going to presume to convince you that you ought to be making mine. To be quite frank, I’ve personally never made harissa the same way twice. What I’d much prefer to do is to try to convince you to experiment until your favorite harissa paste recipe in the world is the harissa you make yourself. There is no reason you can’t do this. Harissa is super easy to make. It’s simply a matter of experimenting with the ingredients you like best.
I’ve provided a solid base recipe here. It uses Guajillo and New Mexico chilis, which I’ve read are closest to the chilies that would typically be used in Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya. So much for authenticity. You can use whatever chilies you like.
I added some arboles for extra heat, and some anchos, because, well, I love ancho chilies. Like smoke? Add some chipotles. Are you a hot freak? How about some habanero or those insanely fiery ghost peppers?
They don’t have to be dried chilies either. Add fresh serranos or jalapeños if you like. Deb Perelmen uses fresh bell pepper in her harissa paste recipe.
Common spices are caraway, cumin, and coriander, but why not a dash of allspice or cinnamon? I toasted and ground whole fresh spices, which I think is worth the effort, but if you’re pressed for time you could used pre-ground.
As for other ingredients? I added some oil packed sun dried tomatoes to mine, because they add a nice jammy quality. I’ve seen tomato paste in a number of recipes I’ve reviewed. The very popular harissa paste recipe from SAVEUR adds mint. I’ve seen cilantro pop up here and there as well. Yotam Ottolenghi adds a splash of Sherry vinegar for a bit of acid bite, and a bit of preserved lemon. That combination almost isn’t even fair. No one could possibly resist it. I’m going to have to try that myself next time.
See how that works? Experiment. When you’ve got it dialed, I hope you’ll share the recipe with me.
- 8 Guajillo Chile Pods
- 8 New Mexico Chili Pods
- 2 Ancho Chilies
- 12 Arbol Chili Pods
- 1 Teaspoon Cumin Seed
- ½ Teaspoon Coriander Seed
- ½ Teaspoon Caraway Seed
- 4 Cloves Garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Oil Packed Sun Dried Tomatoes
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- ½ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Break the stems off of the dried chili peppers and dump out the seeds. Bring a medium sized lidded pot of water to a boil. Remove it from the heat and add the cleaned peppers. Cover them and let them steep until they’re soft--about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Toast the spices in a dry skillet on the stove top until fragrant. Then grind them to a power in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
- Add the rehydrated chilies, the spices, and the remaining ingredients. Puree, adding additional chili soaking liquid as needed to make a fine, thick paste.
- Place harissa paste in sterile jars. Cover the surface with a layer of olive oil to keep the harissa from oxidizing. It’ll last for months refrigerated. Each time you use some, reseal the surface with a thin layer of olive oil.