Harissa (Hot pepper paste)


Hot chili paste used in North African cuisine; I use it in sautéed greens, couscous, chicken marinades, on sandwiches, atop pizza…

Note: North African sources seem to use no or few tomatoes in their recipes; American and British recipes include the tempering sweetness of tomatoes.  All use both caraway and coriander seeds.  I mix it up a bit here.  For excellent traditional harissa recipes, see Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and Paula Wolfert’s The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen (she has a terrific Tunisian one with rose petals and cinnamon).

Makes about a half cup

  • 2 ounces fresh hot chiles (You can also make it with dried chiles toasted and rehydrated in hot water. Play around with the flavors and heat of your chiles.
  • 2 sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic (or to taste)
  • 2 fat shallots
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • one-half teaspoon coarse salt
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice

De-stem the chiles and remove all or some of the seeds and membrane if you are concerned about the heat (most of the heat resides in the seeds). Mince by hand or food processor. Mince the tomatoes and the shallots.

In a mortar and pestle, grind the caraway and coriander and salt to a coarse powder (you can also use powdered spices though they won’t carry the same heady perfume).  Add the garlic and mash, then the chiles, tomatoes and shallots, working until they all come together into a paste.  You can also use a food processor after hand-grinding the spices.

Taste and add a splash or two of lemon juice or oil from your sundried tomatoes or extra olive oil to bind the flavors and thin if the paste is too thick.  Place in a small pot on the stove, bring to a simmer and cook 10-15 minutes. Pack into a sterilized jar, leaving an inch of headroom. Cover completely with olive oil.  Seal and store in the refrigerator or freeze.

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