Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite Moroccan cooking staple, Harissa. This Tunisian hot sauce is popular across North Africa and is made with dried chiles, preserved lemon, and traditional spices. 

a jar of homemade harissa

If you’ve tried any traditional Moroccan recipes, you’re probably familiar with harissa. It’s a vibrantly flavorful hot sauce that is used in marinades (like these harissa chicken thighs), sauces (like this harissa pasta), as a topping, and hot sauce.

While it originated in Tunisia, it is commonly used across North Africa and even in parts of the Middle East.

It’s bright, zingy flavor from preserved lemons adds a great deal of depth when combined with your favorite dried red hot chile pepper.

While harissa is often compared to Sambal and Sriracha, I find it has a smokier, more sharp and citrusy flavor thanks to the paprika and lemon.

Don’t have time to make the preserved lemons? Buy a jar at an Arab market near you or grab a jar online.

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own harissa:

  • dried red hot chile peppers (could be guajillo, anaheim, chiles de arbol, etc.)
  • preserved lemon or lemon juice
  • garlic cloves, peeled
  • olive oil
  • salt 
  • coriander seeds
  • cumin
  • paprika
  • tomato paste 
ingredients to make harissa

How to Make It

Picking the Right Chile Peppers

The fun thing about making your own Harissa versus buying a jar at the store? You have complete control over the spice level. 

The heat in this hot sauce will vary depending on the type of chili peppers you use. 

Here are some common varieties of peppers (and spice levels) to pick from:

  • Anchos – mild to medium
  • Serranos – medium
  • Thai hot peppers – hot 
  • Ghost peppers – extremely hot

If you’re concerned about things being too spicy, remove the seeds from the chiles before adding to the food processor to tame things down.

Where to use Harissa

Moroccan Harissa sauce is great wherever you use hot sauce. I especially love it with toast and a fried egg, sauteed into rice dishes and as a spicy sauce for red meat. 

That said, there are some recipes where it’s just meant to be. Here are a few of my favorites:

Also be sure to check out my recipes for harissa chicken skewers and marinated chicken thighs.

a jar of homemade harissa

Storage

Harissa can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month. 

It can also keep in the freezer for 1-2 months. Break off chunks to thaw and use as needed.

Bismillah,

Salima written in cursive
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a jar of homemade harissa

Homemade Harissa (A Moroccan Cooking Staple)

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  • Author: Salima Benkhalti
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 10 servings 1x
  • Category: side dish, sauce, marinade
  • Method: Blended, Pureed, Processed
  • Cuisine: Moroccan, North African, Tunisian, Libyan
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite Moroccan cooking staple, Harissa. This Tunisian hot sauce is popular across North Africa and is made with dried chiles, preserved lemon, and traditional spices. 


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 20 (about 1 cup) dried red hot chile peppers (could be guajillo, anaheim, chiles de arbol, etc.)
  • 1 tsp minced preserved lemon or 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste


Instructions

  1. Hydrate the chiles. Add them to a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak for 20 minutes or until the chiles are soft and easy to work with. 
  2. Process the harissa. Remove the stems from the peppers and add to a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Pulse until a consistent paste is formed, adding more olive oil if needed to reach desired consistency. 
  3. Store. Harissa can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month. 

Notes

Tip: If you’re concerned about things being too spicy, remove the seeds from the chiles before adding to the food processor to tame things down.