Harissa is a condiment that originates from Northern Africa. It is a zesty combination of red chili peppers, garlic, cumin, coriander, and extra virgin olive oil into a smooth paste.
The mixture then goes through the process of being dried in the sun or with heated air before going through fermentation. Before serving, it is often sprinkled with olive oil to create a remoulade sauce.
How to Serve Harissa
Harissa is used as a condiment, mixed into stews like “Judd mat ga’ar,” or eaten straight with bread (like some kinds of salsa). Harissa is commonly used in Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya but can be found easily throughout Northwest Africa.
It has become popularly used as a seasoning mix for different kinds of meat such as chicken and lamb for grilling on the barbecue. You can also find it at many North African restaurants where people use it as a dip with bread or vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers. People also use it as a hot sauce for bread, meats, and fish.
Some countries use Harissa as an ingredient to flavor couscous, soups, and stews. Other popular dishes include chicken baked with harissa paste for added spiciness (with lemon juice) or raw meatballs flavored with Harissa served on toothpicks at cocktail parties. Fish marinated with Harissa dipped in olive oil is another great dish for outdoor barbecues or picnics.
It is often said that Harissa has many health benefits by offering vitamins A, B6, and C to the body. Vitamin A helps support healthy vision, while vitamin B6 helps metabolize food into energy. Vitamin C works with iron which is found abundantly in red chili peppers, to contribute to normal muscle functions.
It’s important not to confuse harissa seasoning mix with harissa sauce. The dry Harissa seasoning mix consists of different ingredients than the sauce. So although both are similar, they are quite different.
To make a harissa sauce, you must put all the spices together using the proper ratios according to your needs. Then, once it’s mixed well, you must peel the skin off of red chili peppers with your hands. After all this, you can then blend the mixture into a paste with water or oil.
Many North African restaurants are beginning to use Harissa as an ingredient in different kinds of dishes for customers to enjoy. Its unique taste is something that brings people back to these restaurants over and over again.
What does Harissa taste like?
Harissa has a pungent flavor which can be salty or sweet at first taste, followed by the slow-building heat from the chilies making an impact that lasts for minutes after swallowing. Tomatoes are also often added to provide pulp that helps counteract this burning sensation left on your tongue.
✔️ In Turkey, there is an even more vicious variation called “acılı,” which includes egg yolk as well as tomato puree and vinegar.
✔️ In Egypt, another variation is called “birmizza” made from dried cloves of garlic mashed together with long green chilies, fresh cilantro, and salt.
✔️ In Algeria, a similar chili paste is called “ougla” – it’s made from red chilies crushed to a fine pulp with garlic and olive oil pizza topping) per tablespoon of chili powder (you may need as little as 1 teaspoon such as cayenne or up to 1/4 cup such as New Mexico chilies).
The flavor profile will change depending on the type and origin of the peppers.
Harissa Seasoning Mix
8 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
8 dried chilis de Arbol, stemmed and seeded
4 dried Thai chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Toast the dried chilis on a cookie sheet at 350F for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before continuing.
- In a plain, dry skillet, toast the caraway, coriander, and cumin seeds just until fragrant. This cooking step will take approximately two minutes.
- Combine the cooled ingredients in a blender or coffee mill until they’re the consistency of fine powder.
Store in a sealed Ziploc or vacuum seal bag (or jar) or spice jar.
Harissa Sauce Recipe
7 Dried New Mexico Chiles or Guajillo Chiles or a combination of both
6 oz jar roasted red peppers drained, rinsed, and dried (the equivalent of 2 large peppers)
2 tablespoon tomato paste
4 large garlic cloves peeled
1 teaspoon caraway seeds toasted and ground (use a mortar and pestle, grinder or food processor)
2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juicea
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit more for serving
- Prepare the dried chiles by soaking them. Pour hot water over the dried chiles in a heat-safe bowl.
- The chiles should be tender and rehydrated after 30 minutes. At this point, drain the chilis, then remove and discard the stems and seeds.
- Put the chiles in a food processor. Add tomato paste, some peppers (roasted), and garlic. Next, add salt and pepper, coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, and cayenne (if you want it spicy). Then, pour some lemon juice on top.
- Prepare the harissa paste. Run the food processor and drizzle the extra virgin olive oil through the top while it’s running. Stop the processor and scrape down the sides.
- Repeat until the desired paste consistency is reached. Season to taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, keeping in mind that its flavor will become more intense when Harissa paste is refrigerated.