Friday, 1 May 2015

Moroccan harissa paste using fresh peppers

Harissa is a North African spicy condiment with Tunisian origins. The recipe I'm posting today is just one of the many harissa recipes out there. It's also the one I prefer because it's made of fresh ingredients and it's HOMEMADE.

Making your own harissa is rewarding at many levels. You can adjust the heat, you are sure there are no chemicals added to it (such as that nasty red color usually found in mass-produced harissas).

Mild harissa, homemade
Since we cook with this harissa as well as serve it as a side condiment, we tend to make it mild by using more sweet red peppers than the hot ones. So you get it, If you want a hot harissa, you add more hot chili or put less sweet pepper.

My family makes 2 types of Harissa using either dried peppers/chili or using fresh ones (see notes). Today is about the second one.

Main types of peppers found in Morocco: long peppers are widely used in Moroccan cooking

For about 2 medium-size jar
Prep: 20 min - Cooking: 35 min
  • 1 kg of sweet red peppers 
  • 1/4 kg of cayenne pepper, more or less
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 preserved lemon, discard seeds only
  • 1 tbsp of salt at least
  • 2 dry bay leaves, 
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil


Wash the peppers/chili.

Discard all the seeds and white bits inside the sweet red pepper and most of them in the hot chili.

Cut the sweet red peppers into chuncks and make sure you use gloves while chopping the hot chili.

Place all ingredients, except the oil,  in a deep heavy-bottomed pot and add about 1 cup of water. Cover and let simmer for 15- 20 min before getting to the next step.

Blend all ingredients to a paste and transfer to a saucepan/frying pan. Place over medium heat and add the oil.

Keep stirring until all the water has evaporated and the sauce look like a thick paste. Set aside to cool.

Place the harissa sauce/paste in sterilized jars and keep it in the fridge for months. You could also freeze a good quantity by pouring it into Ziploc or ice cube silicone forms.

Strained harissa sauce


1/ Instead of tenderizing the peppers in a pot by letting them simmer for a few minutes, we could also steam them then blend them with the rest of the ingredients. Some people also like to concentrate flavors and cook them in the oven. It helps getting rid of the skin of each pepper, which gives a smoother harissa.

2/ Harissa with dried peppers/chili, Discard the seeds and leave the peppers in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain and blend into a food processor.

You will then transfer the mix to a frying pan and cook for a few minutes until it looks like a dark thick paste. Top with oil and keep in jars, in a dark place.

This harissa is usually flavored with caraway seeds, coriander seeds or cumin while garlic and preserved lemons could be omitted.

3/ Harissa is served with fish and other dishes, we also add it to spice up some salads and stews. Try this Harissa vinaigrette.


  1. Amazing pictures as usual, Nada! I loved putting harissa in kebab when I was in Tunis!! Actually I wonder if I'm still able to have it!

    1. That sounds good!

      Have you considered marinating fish, chicken and meat with harissa before grilling it?
      I honestly don't have a good stomach for deadly hot harissas but I love the mild ones..

  2. For the harissa with dried chili peppers, are there specific varieties of dried peppers that would be better to use? There are a number of varieties available in the local markets here in California, some hotter than others, some smokey.

    1. We use dried cayenne pepper as a first choice and also that's what is mostly available in Moroccan markets. But then it would be interesting to try and mix other peppers.

      I know scotch bonnet has a fruity note so I don't see it in the mix but then again, it's worth experimenting.


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