In this simple guide, I’ll teach you how to make a restaurant-quality harissa vinaigrette dressing, including preparation tips, tasty uses, and storage guides.

Cava copycat hot harissa vinaigrette in a glass jar with a spoon.

What is Harissa Dressing Made Of?

The best way to capture the bright flavors of CAVA’s hot harissa vinaigrette is by using the right ingredients—fresh, flavorful, and already in your pantry!

Ingredients for the recipe in small bowls from the top view.
  • Olive oil: Though a little more expensive, high-quality extra virgin olive oil is excellent for vinaigrettes due to its richness and depth. (Remember: Olive oil plays a big part in vinaigrette recipes!) Still, any olive oil will work as long as you like its flavor.
  • Lemon juice or vinegar: I recommend using fresh lemon juice due to its bright, citrusy overtones. However, if you want sharper, more acidic notes in your harissa vinaigrette, you can use red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar instead.
  • Harissa: This recipe works with both harissa sauce (or paste) and harissa powder. You can also make harissa paste from powder. Regardless of your choice, I suggest making them from scratch due to their more vibrant, fresh, and customizable flavors. However, you can also purchase store-bought versions for simpler meal prep. In particular, I love brands like NY Shuk, Mina, and Whole Foods, though you should be able to find more harissa products in the “international” or “ethnic” sections of local grocery stores.
  • Honey: Honey is the key to giving harissa salad dressing a beautiful balance of “heat and sweet,” though you may also use maple syrup or agave syrup for a vegan version.
  • Garlic: Be sure to grate or press your fresh garlic before adding it to your recipe. Otherwise, the garlic won’t properly infuse the dressing with its flavors.
  • Seasoning: Kosher salt and ground black pepper are all that’s necessary to bring out the savory tones of this all-natural harissa vinaigrette recipe.

Optional Add-Ins

How you customize your harissa salad dressing depends on your brand of harissa. Some store-bought brands—like Trader Joe’s—tend to have a hotter flavor profile, while others—like Whole Foods—are a little milder. 

In short, taste your harissa sauce and consider your final dish before adjusting your recipe!

  • Spicier: Want to kick up the heat of this CAVA copycat recipe? Try adding a pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to your mix. Depending on the brand of harissa you are using, you can also add cumin for an added layer of warmth. If you are making it from scratch following our recipe, I do not recommend adding more, but of course, you can give your harissa a taste and decide for yourself.
  • Herbal flavors: If you prefer an earthier, lighter taste in your harissa dressing, try adding a shake of dried oregano or dried mint to your recipe.
  • Greek yogurt: Though not traditional, you can make a creamy harissa dressing by adding Greek yogurt to your recipe. Not only does this ingredient lend the mixture a nice tang, but it’s also a great way to lighten up its flavor profile for those who want a not-too-spicy harissa vinaigrette.

How to Make Harissa Vinaigrette?

You can make hot harissa vinaigrette in three simple steps, bringing spicy, Middle Eastern flavors to any meal. And the best part, you ask? It takes less than 5 minutes to make.

A collage of images showing how to make harissa vinaigrette.
  1. Add the ingredients: Place the olive oil, lemon juice, harissa sauce (or powder), honey, garlic, kosher salt, and black pepper to a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  2. Mix: Cover the jar and shake it for 30 seconds or until emulsified. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
  3. Serve or store: Refrigerate the vinaigrette or use it immediately in your desired recipe. Be sure to shake the mixture after storage to ensure a well-integrated mixture.

How to Store, Freeze, and Thaw?

  • Store: You can store your harissa vinaigrette in an airtight container or glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one week. Remember to shake the mixture well before using it to help reintegrate any separated ingredients.
  • Freeze: For extra-long storage, freeze this recipe in a freezer-safe, airtight container for up to one month. Leave enough room in your chosen container for the vinaigrette to expand.
  • Thaw: To thaw your frozen harissa dressing, put it in the refrigerator overnight.

How to Use Harissa Vinaigrette?

Lighter and tangier than traditional harissa, this delicious condiment works pretty much anywhere you want that hot harissa taste. Below are a few of my favorite ways to add a bold flavor to any weekday menu.

  • Salad dressing: No one can resist a classic. Using harissa dressing for salad is a no-brainer, especially since it strikes such a tasty balance with the crispness of leafy green salads. This vinaigrette pairs impeccably with the refreshing cucumber and tomatoes in my Spring Mix Salad. Or, you can balance this spicy condiment with the rich creaminess of my Butter Lettuce Salad or Massaged Kale Salad with Avocado—especially when topped with a crumble of feta cheese.
  • Grain bowls: Want to learn how to make CAVA at home? Grain bowls are a staple of this Mediterranean restaurant chain—a clear reason why I love using this copycat vinaigrette for dishes like my vegan Quinoa Power Bowl and gluten-free Quinoa Sweet Potato Bowl.
  • Sandwiches and wraps: This harissa vinaigrette doesn’t just work in bowls. It’s also a mouthwatering blend for sandwiches and wraps—whether you drizzle it over the spread or use it as a dipping sauce.
  • Roasted vegetables: Equal parts nutritious and flavorful, this easy vinaigrette makes the perfect addition to roasted veggies. Drizzle it over tender dishes like Baked Eggplant Slices, sweet Roasted Maple Carrots, and hearty Air Fried Red Potatoes, and you’ll never have a bland side dish again.
  • Roasted and grilled meats & seafood: You can lend any protein a delicious spice by serving this vinaigrette with dishes, such as my succulent Grilled Salmon, Steak Kabobs in Oven, and Baked Bone-In Chicken Breast. Use this dressing like your other go-to dips and serve it on the side, or use it as a drizzle for a well-infused smokiness.
  • Use it as a marinade: Out of all the CAVA dressing recipes, this is one of my favorites for meat marinades. Simply add ¼ cup of harissa vinaigrette to your favorite marinade recipe (especially my tangy Chicken Marinade with Yogurt, zesty Shrimp Marinade, and savory Turkey Tenderloin Marinade!) and add more as necessary.

Aysegul’s Expert Tips

If you want the flavors of the authentic hot harissa vinaigrette, below are a few helpful tips for getting the best flavor, consistency, and use from this five-star dressing.

  • Powder vs. sauce: Though both will work, during our recipe testing, we thought the harissa sauce performed better when making this vinaigrette. Powder tends to sink at the bottom as it sits, while sauce blends better (depending on the brand you use, of course). If your only option is harissa powder, be sure to shake it vigorously before using it in your recipe.
  • Adjust seasoning and sweetness: Because this dressing recipe can be customized in many ways, you must taste it for seasoning. Consider, too, what kind of dish you plan to make, and adjust your dressing’s ingredient ratios to make the best match. For instance, you can make a sweet honey harissa vinaigrette by increasing the amount of honey you use.
  • Shake well before use: Letting your harissa dressing rest for 20 minutes is an easy way to help its flavors infuse and develop. However, as with any vinaigrette, this recipe’s ingredients tend to separate as it sits. Therefore, you must whisk or shake it well before using it.

FAQs

What is harissa dressing?

Harissa dressing is a spicy, light vinaigrette popularized by the Mediterranean restaurant chain CAVA. This dressing gets its primary flavors from harissa—a chili-based condiment that originated in Tunisia. However, it also contains rich, citrusy notes from other ingredients like lemon juice and garlic.

What is the difference between harissa sauce and harissa vinaigrette?

Of course, both recipes boast a hot, smoky taste due to their use of chili peppers, spices, and herbs. However, harissa sauce is an ingredient in harissa vinaigrette, with a more concentrated flavor and thicker consistency. The vinaigrette version is a thinner, lighter, and less intense mixture, as it has an olive oil base and other ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, and honey.

Other CAVA-Inspired Dressing Recipes

If you make this hot harissa vinaigrette 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 Vinaigrette Recipe

No ratings yet
Yields4 servings
Prep Time5 minutes
Total Time5 minutes
Hot harissa vinaigrette is the ultimate condiment for anyone craving the spicy and smoky flavors of harissa. In just five minutes and with a handful of ingredients, you can take any dish—grain bowls, veggies, salads, and beyond—to the next level.

Ingredients 

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons harissa sauce, or 1 tablespoon harissa powder
  • 1 tablespoon honey, or maple syrup or agave nectar for a vegan option
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or pressed
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

Instructions 

  • Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, harissa sauce (or powder), honey, garlic, kosher salt, and pepper in a mason jar.
  • Cover and shake until emulsified, about 30 seconds. Adjust seasoning to your desired taste.
  • Use right away or store in the fridge until ready to use. Be sure to shake before serving.

Notes

  • Yields: This recipe makes 1/2 cup harissa vinaigrette. I listed 4 servings because you can use it in a salad or grain bowl recipe that serves 4 people. The nutritional values below are per serving.
  • Storage: Place leftovers in a mason jar (or any other airtight container) and keep them in the fridge for up to a week.
  • Freeze: You can freeze this dressing in a freezer-safe container for up to a month. Thaw it in the fridge overnight.

Nutrition

Calories: 146kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 0.3g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Sodium: 392mg | Potassium: 47mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 52IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 5mg | Iron: 0.2mg

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

Additional Info

Course: Salad Dressing
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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