Making Harissa at Home

February 15, 2013

Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today, Brandon Matzek of Kitchen Konfidence shares his recipe for harissa, a sweet-spicy condiment that adds excitement to any meal.


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A few years after I moved to San Diego, a friend of mine introduced me to Café Chloe, a charming French restaurant in the heart of the East Village. Nestled amongst other diners on the patio, we started our meal with an order of pommes frites. Matchstick-cut frites and wisps of frizzled leek spilled out from a cone of parchment, served with a trio of bold dipping sauces. The first was a peppery watercress aioli with just a hint of spice. The second was a golden-hued sauce flavored with garlic and sultry saffron. The last was a glossy ketchup spiked with something completely new to me: harissa.

After just one taste of this sweet-spicy condiment, I was compelled to research and explore. In its most basic form, harissa, a North African chile sauce, is made with dried chiles, garlic, olive oil and spices. In this version, I’ve brightened the flavors by adding lemon juice, zest and red wine vinegar to brighten flavors, and included tomato paste for body. I also opt for dried chiles that fall into the “sweet and complex” category, rather than smoky or spicy: a blend of ancho, mulato and guajillo chiles provides a fruity base with intriguing depth of flavor. Thick yet smooth, this harissa pairs well with a variety of proteins (lamb, beef, chicken, fish) and starches (pasta, farro, rice, potatoes).


Homemade Harissa

Adapted from the New York Times

Makes 1 cup

5 medium dried red chile peppers, stems removed*
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/3 cup tomato paste

* I use a mixture of 1 ancho chile, 1 mulato chile and 3 guajillo chiles, and my harissa turns out complex and flavorful -- not spicy. Dried chipotle peppers will give your harissa a smokier flavor, while chile de árbol will add heat.


Soak the chile peppers in vinegar for 30 to 45 minutes, until soft. Combine chiles, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and olive in a food processor and process until smooth.

Lightly toast the coriander and fennel seeds in a frying pan, and then grind them using a mortar and pestle. Add these ground spices to the food processor along with the pepper, allspice, nutmeg, salt, and tomato paste. Process until smooth, drizzling in extra olive oil if the mixture seems too thick. Season to taste with additional kosher salt.


Aside from mixing this Harissa with ketchup to complement a batch of French fries, I love using it in a quick weeknight pasta dish. Here's my go-to recipe: using a mortar and pestle (or small food processor), pulverize 3 cloves of garlic with a large pinch of salt. Mix in 3 spoonfuls of Harissa and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, then set aside. Drop a half pound of pasta (I like penne) in salted boiling water. While the pasta cooks, toast a large handful of pine nuts, zest a lemon, tear several stalks of kale leaves into bite-sizes pieces, and chop up a number of pitted green olives. Just before the pasta reaches al dente, add the kale, cook briefly, then drain both pasta and kale. In the same pot, add half of the Harissa mixture and a pinch of red pepper flake. Warm for a few moments over medium heat. Add the pasta, kale, nuts, zest, and olives, tossing to combine. Once everything is warmed through, transfer to a serving platter and drizzle over the remaining Harissa oil.

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  • Jeannette Berman
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  • toddnyc
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    Emilia Rosa
  • GeniusCook
Kitchen Konfidence is a collection of recipes and techniques aimed to inspire the home cook to do more in the kitchen. About Brandon: I enjoy cooking with seasonal ingredients, making ice cream and shaking up some killer cocktails. When I am not cooking and taking pictures of my food, I am at the beach, carousing with friends, taking day trips up the 5, or engaging in all manner of computer geekery.


Jeannette B. September 28, 2013
There is a fantastic Tunisian Spiced Carrots recipe I make from a cookbook I got called Entree to Judaism. I can't wait to make this and use it for that recipe!
kmswann August 26, 2013
I recently made harissa and following some recommendations, added olive oil to it. Within three days in the fridge, there were small white dots wherever the oil's surface met with the harissa or the glass of the jar it was in. Is this mold or is this the oil reacting with the spices in the harissa?
toddnyc May 16, 2013
This winter I salt-cured a quart of Meyer lemons. I'm guessing a half lemon peel will perk this recipe up? I've already tried them in a Moroccan Braised Chicken to good results...
Emilia R. April 22, 2013
Genius Cook, we call this condition in Brazil "Tensão Pré-Menstrual." I've heard Midol might be of help; you should give it a try!
darksideofthespoon April 22, 2013
There isn't enough Midol in the world to make a dent in Genius Cook's PMS (of the mouth).
Emilia R. April 22, 2013
Ha, ha, ha!!! Chapeau!
Emilia R. April 22, 2013
PS: Do spoons really have a dark side? ;-)
GeniusCook April 22, 2013
A tube of good quality Harissa costs less than 2 bucks. Why the hassle to try to improve what already tastes good. oh, and you pasta recipe sounds god awful!
darksideofthespoon April 22, 2013
Vstarr71 February 25, 2013
So complex and amazing! I've been wanting to try this for awhile. My husband loves it too:)
libraemily February 18, 2013
Any suggestions on where to find the various dried peppers?
Gregory G. February 18, 2013
Thank you so much...excellent! Discovered Harissa a number of years ago and always run out.
supershirl February 17, 2013
I love the tweaks you've made and Cafe Chloe's whole wheat pancakes.
Diana K. February 17, 2013
I have wanted to try harissa for a while now. I guess I'm out of reasons to wait. This sounds divine!
edamame2003 February 15, 2013
this is a great harissa recipe. I usually use preserved lemon and fresh peppers (red bell and fresno) that I roast, but using a blend of dried peppers is a wonderful variation I will try. thanks for this!
Kitchen K. February 17, 2013
Yum!! That sounds delicious. I'm always looking for new ways to use preserved lemons :)
Emilia R. February 15, 2013
What a simple recipe—and enticing pictures! I always thought harissa was a very complicated concoction. And I love the idea of mixing it with ketchup—my husband will love that one, I know. I wonder how long freshly made harissa lasts…
Kitchen K. February 17, 2013
Thank you! This harissa will last you several months.
darksideofthespoon February 15, 2013
Yum! One of my favorite lunches is Harissa with a baguette. ;) Can't wait to try this!