Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite Moroccan cooking staple, Harissa. This North African hot sauce is made with dried chiles, preserved lemon, and traditional spices.
This post may contain affiliate links; this means if you purchase an item linked, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Click here to learn more about my disclosure policy.
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, sauces, as a topping, and hot sauce.
The 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.
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
- coriander seeds
- tomato paste
How to Make It
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.
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.
Store. Harissa can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.
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:
- Moroccan Couscous - adding in a spoonful of Harissa will take the flavor and spice to a whole new level
- Kefta Lettuce Wraps - these lettuce wraps have a Harissa yogurt sauce that is unforgettable
- Chicken with lemon & olives - this popular Moroccan recipe would be fantastic with a spoon of Harissa added to the marinade
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.