In this simple guide, you’ll discover how to make harissa sauce that’s as close to an authentic harissa paste recipe as possible, in addition to delectable serving suggestions, storage tips, and more.

What is Harissa?

Harissa is a smooth, spicy condiment that originated in Tunisia. Sometimes referred to as “Tunisian ketchup” or “harissa paste,” this bold, red sauce includes a basic mixture of dried chilis, warm spices, tomato paste, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice. This mix results in a delicious blend of hot, smoky, and mildly tangy flavors.

Since its creation, harissa has spread to neighboring countries, like Morocco, Jordan, and Algeria, and it’s now a staple in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Harissa paste in a jar from the front view.

Harissa Ingredients

You only need a handful of ingredients to make this iconic Middle Eastern condiment. Plus, you can even customize your harissa’s main ingredients to ensure your sauce matches any menu.

Ingredients for the recipe from the top view.
  • Dried chilies: I prefer using a mix of guajillo, ancho, and de arbol chilies in this recipe due to their balanced mix of heat and complexity. However, if you’re looking to make a spicy harissa recipe, you can incorporate Mexico chilies that fall higher on the Scoville Scale, or you can make a sweeter harissa sauce by using more New Mexico chilies (a milder variant). For the best harissa, I recommend using 7-8 dried peppers of different kinds. You should be able to find dried chilies at your local grocery store, or you can purchase them online (affiliate link) if desired.
  • Spices: Cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds are essential to giving this condiment its warm, fragrant heat. I prefer using pre-ground spices in this mixture to save time, but you can also grind an equal amount of whole spices with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  • Roasted red peppers: To make homemade harissa paste, you’ll need two whole roasted red peppers. I usually opt for a jarred version (be sure to drain its juices first!), but you can also make homemade roasted red bell peppers for a fresher, smokier taste.
  • Fresh Garlic cloves
  • Seasonings: I found that a simple mix of kosher salt and Spanish paprika was sufficient to give this African chili paste a savory, bright flavor. Smoked paprika—a version of Spanish paprika—will also work if you prefer a more robust smokiness. If desired, you can also add ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to increase the recipe’s heat level.
  • Tomato paste
  • Lemon juice: I always opt for fresh lemon juice, which has the most vibrant, citrusy flavor. 
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: A mild-tasting extra virgin olive oil such as  Costo’s single-origin organic olive oil (affiliate link) would work beautifully in this recipe.
  • Honey (optional): The recipe below does not include honey, but harissa and honey are a wonderful combination that you’ll find in many recipes. If you prefer a sweet harissa, I recommend adding two tablespoons of honey, giving it a taste, and increasing it based on your preference.

How to Make Harissa Sauce?

It’s easy to make harissa paste worthy of a North African restaurant in your own kitchen. With my easy step-by-step instructions, you can prepare this condiment in under an hour.

Steps showing how to make harissa from scratch.
  1. Rehydrate the chilies: Place the dried chiles in a medium-sized bowl, add boiling hot water, and place a weighted bowl on top to keep the chilies submerged. Alternatively, you can cover it with plastic wrap. Let the chilies steep in the water for 30 minutes.
  2. Deseed the chili peppers: Once the chilies rehydrate, remove them from the water and remove their stems and seeds. If you prefer a spicier blend, you can keep some of the seeds in the peppers.
  3. Blend the ingredients for harissa: Place the rehydrated harissa peppers in your food processor bowl (or a blender, depending on what you’re using). Then, add the ground cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, roasted peppers, garlic, kosher salt, Spanish paprika, tomato paste, lemon juice, olive oil, and cayenne pepper. Pulse the mixture until smooth.
  4. Enjoy: Use your harissa chili paste in your desired recipe or store it in an airtight container in the fridge if you plan to use it later.

How to Store & Freeze?

Once you make harissa paste, you’ll want to use it every day of the week. These storage tips guarantee easy meal prep and keep this condiment fresh whenever the craving strikes.

  • Storage: To store your harissa sauce, transfer it to an airtight container or jar and store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. I also recommend pouring a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the sauce before storage to prolong its shelf life, as this layer will help limit exposure to oxygen and bacteria.
  • Freezing: This red harissa recipe can be frozen for up to one month in an airtight, freezer-safe container. For easier portion sizes, pour your sauce into an ice cube tray, freeze until solid, and then transfer the individual cubes into a Ziplock bag.
  • Thawing: To thaw frozen harissa, place it in the fridge overnight or until ready to use.

How to Use Harissa Paste in Recipes?

Wondering how to use this spicy harissa sauce in everyday cooking? In this section, you’ll find all my favorite dishes with harissa sauce—sandwich spreads, marinades, salad dressings, and beyond!

  • Marinade: I highly recommend adding this harissa sauce to marinade recipes if you love spicy foods. Try adding a tablespoon (or two) of harissa to my Yogurt Chicken Marinade and Shrimp Marinade to introduce a vibrant heat and depth of flavor that will make your dishes stand out.
  • Soups and stews: Want to add extra complexity and spice to a basic soup recipe? Try using this spicy sauce in place of tomato or chili paste! In particular, I love adding harissa to hearty, full-bodied dishes like Quinoa Stew, Vegan Chili, and Beef Stew.
  • Pasta sauce: If you want to add sumptuous heat to your pasta, harissa is just the thing. For a spicy kick, stir a quarter cup of this condiment into your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce.
  • Spread for sandwiches, pizza, and flatbread: I love using this simple recipe as a harissa spread for easy weekday lunches, like sandwiches and flatbreads. You can even spread it over avocado toast for a delectable balance of rich, piquant flavors.
  • Dip: Add a spoonful of this Mediterranean chili sauce to plain Greek yogurt, and you can spice up any mezze platter or dipping sauce in no time. You can even mix it with Hummus for a creamy, hot classic no one can resist.
  • Roasting vegetables: Because it’s such a flavorful, smooth sauce, hot chili pepper paste is an excellent condiment to drizzle over roasted veggies. I especially love pouring it over a hearty plate of Roasted Butternut Squash or Roasted Eggplant for an extra-bold side.
  • Salad Dressing: This harissa hot sauce recipe is a flavorful condiment and a fantastic base for salad dressings. With a few simple ingredients, you can even make a tangy yet hot Harissa Vinaigrette.
  • Grains: Tired of bland grains? You can give a little kick of spice to everything from rice to bulgur to quinoa to couscous when you add harissa to your mix.

Aysegul’s Expert Tips

The best way to make homemade harissa is to use these chef-approved pointers. With tips on flavoring, safety, and consistency, this guide will ensure that even beginners can easily make harissa paste.

  • Experiment with different types of dried peppers: Red chili peppers have a wide range in spice levels, with some (especially Mexico chilies) having greater amounts of heat and others (like New Mexico chiles) boasting a milder profile. Therefore, I encourage you to experiment with the blend of chilies to achieve your ideal level of spice.
  • Wear gloves (or wash your hands well): When making this spicy condiment, you must protect yourself from the chilies’ spicy compound, capsaicin. Though flavorful, capsaicin often clings to the skin and can cause a burning sensation when exposed to eyes, airways, and cuts. Wearing gloves is a good idea when working with chili peppers or—if you don’t have any gloves—wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Toast spices: As I mentioned earlier, I used ground spices to save time. However, you can use whole spices and grind them yourself. If you decide to do so, I recommend toasting them in a cast iron skillet for 3-5 minutes before grinding them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. 
  • Consistency and texture: In its original Tunisian form, harissa has a smooth, condiment-like consistency. However, harissa has since taken on other commercialized forms, like “harissa sauce” (which purportedly has a thinner, sauce-like texture) and “harissa paste” (which is supposed to be thicker and less liquidy). Though these terms technically refer to the same thing, you can still adjust this recipe’s consistency using more or less olive oil, depending on your desired thickness. During our recipe testing, we compared our homemade version to commercial brands (like Trader Joe’s Harissa, NY Shuk, and Mina ) and thought ⅓ to ½ cup of olive oil was a good place to start. 
  • Taste for seasoning: As with any recipe, it’s important to taste your sauce before serving and adjust the seasoning as needed. If your recipe already includes salt, be mindful of this when adding harissa sauce. You may need to reduce the amount of salt in your harissa to prevent over-seasoning your final dish.
  • Gets better the next day: Letting your DIY harissa sauce sit in the fridge overnight is an easy way to let its flavors develop and mix, leading to a much tastier, more robust recipe.
Store-bought harissa in jars.

FAQs

Where is harissa from?

The origin of harissa lies in Tunisia, though this condiment has since spread to other North African and Middle Eastern countries, such as Morocco, Libya, and Algeria.

What is a harissa paste substitute?

If you’re looking for a harissa sauce alternative, I recommend selecting another chili-based sauce, like sriracha, sambal oelek, or chipotle in adobo sauce. These substitutions have similar spicy, aromatic notes, but they also have different flavor profiles. Therefore, when using these substitutions, I’d encourage you to add other spices —like cumin, coriander, and caraway—into your dish to imitate the flavors of harissa. 

Where can I find harissa paste?

While making harissa sauce from scratch is superior, you can find this condiment at grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and ALDI—particularly in their “international,” “Mediterranean,” or “ethnic” sections. I like to use brands like NY Shuk and Mina (affiliate link) due to their freshness and depth.

Is sriracha the same as harissa?

Though they both boast a similarly smooth, chili-based flavor profile, sriracha isn’t the same as harissa sauce. Sriracha—a Thai chili sauce—is tangier and sweeter, and people often use it in Asian dishes. By contrast, Tunisian harissa boasts a spicier, more concentrated flavor, which many use to enhance the flavor of meat marinades, dips, soups, and more.

How spicy is harissa?

Depending on the chilies used, this condiment can range from mild to super-hot. Some versions may be spicier if they use Mexico chilies and spices like cayenne pepper, while others may have a more subtle heat if they use New Mexico chilies. Because of this range, I highly recommend that you make harissa yourself—even starting with homemade harissa powder!—so you can adjust the spiciness to your desired level.

If you make this Harissa Sauce recipe, I would greatly appreciate it if you could take a minute to rate it and leave a comment below. It is a great way to support this website and help those planning to make it. Also, if you took pictures, I’d love to see them. Share your creations on Instagram using #foolproofeats so I can share them with the Foolproof Living community.

Harissa Sauce Recipe

No ratings yet
Yields1 cup
Prep Time35 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Made from a basic mix of fresh ingredients, homemade harissa sauce is a simple recipe that will infuse any dish with spicy, smoky, and subtly tangy flavors. Plus, it not only tastes better but it is also cheaper than its store-bought alternatives.

Ingredients 

  • 8 dried chilis, I used 3 guajillo chili peppers, 3 Ancho chili peppers, and 2 Arbol chili peppers*
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 whole roasted red peppers, from jarred – drained
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika, you can use sweet Spanish paprika or smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste, optional
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

Instructions 

  • Place the dried chilies in a medium-sized bowl and add the boiling water.
  • Place a weighted bowl* on top to keep the chilies submerged and to rehydrate them. Let them steep for 30 minutes, and then drain.
  • Remove the stems and deseed all the chili peppers. You can remove all of the seeds or keep some for added heat, depending on your preference.
  • Place the chili peppers in the food processor (or blender). Add the ground cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, roasted red pepper, garlic, kosher salt, paprika, tomato paste, lemon juice, olive oil, and cayenne pepper.
  • Pulse until pureed and smooth.
  • Place in an airtight container and refrigerate if not using right away.

Notes

  • Yields: This recipe makes approximately 1 cup of harissa. The nutritional values below are for the whole recipe.
  • Dried chilies: Use this recipe as a starting place, but feel free to use different types of dried chilies to make this sauce.
  • Toast spices: I used ground spices to save time. However, you can use whole spices and grind them yourself. If you decide to do so, I recommend toasting an equal amount of whole spice in a cast iron skillet for 3-5 minutes before grinding them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
  • Storage: To store your harissa sauce, transfer it to an airtight container or jar and store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. I also recommend pouring a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the sauce before storage to prolong its shelf life, as this layer will help limit exposure to oxygen and bacteria.
  • Freezing: This red harissa recipe can be frozen for up to one month in an airtight, freezer-safe container. For easier portion sizes, pour your sauce into an ice cube tray, freeze until solid, and then transfer the individual cubes into a Ziplock bag.
  • Thawing: To thaw frozen harissa, place it in the fridge overnight or until ready to use.

Nutrition

Calories: 717kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 74g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g | Monounsaturated Fat: 53g | Sodium: 2505mg | Potassium: 483mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 2550IU | Vitamin C: 27mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Condiment/Sauce
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Tried this recipe?Mention @foolproofliving or tag #foolproofeats!

About Aysegul Sanford

Hello Friend! I'm Aysegul but you can call me “Ice." I’m the cook/recipe-tester/photographer behind this site.

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