Harissa is a North African condiment made from chili peppers. Either fresh or dried chili peppers can be used to make harissa. The former allows more flexibility for controlling the heat while harissa with dried chili peppers will always be spicy hot.
We use harissa mostly as a condiment but also sometimes as an ingredient. As example, some Moroccans like to add a spoonful of harissa to the side of their plate and dab bread into it while eating tagines or salads. It can also be added directly to a sauce, stew or even the dough for a savory biscuit.
The recipe below is for Moroccan harissa with dried chili peppers. If making it for the first time you may want to make a smaller batch.
For a milder version of harissa, check out my recipe for Moroccan harissa with fresh chili peppers.
Harissa paste made from dried cayenne peppers is the hottest form of harissa paste. Although easy to make and to adapt to your liking with regard to spices and types of chili peppers, it will be so hot as to make you sneeze. The heat from the chili embalms the air and you will feel it all the way down your throat. You might need to open the windows while sauteing.
The good news is that you can omit this step but make sure you thoroughly pat dry the chilis before grinding them.
It is suggested to wear plastic or latex gloves to handle the chili.
Run the knife through the top end of each dried chili. Shake them head down and scrape out seeds. Discard them and leave the peppers to soak in hot water for 30 to 60 minutes.
Drain and grind the chilis in a food processor or meat grinder (or mortar and pestle). Add salt, oil and any other spice used.
OPTIONAL: Transfer the mix to a frying pan and saute for a few minutes over medium heat until it looks like a thick dark paste. Keep stirring. It is a delicate step as the heat will get to your nose and throat and there will be a lot of sneezing.
Transfer the harissa to jars and top it with oil. Store in a dark place. Although you can do this in a cupboard, it is better to keep the harissa in the fridge, where it will stay for 2 to 4 weeks, or in the freezer for longer.
- This harissa is usually flavored with caraway seeds, coriander seeds and/or cumin while garlic and preserved lemons can be omitted.