Harissa (spicy chili pepper paste)

We love spicy food at our house. I fell in love with Harissa when I ate at Cava Grill- which is a Mediterranean restaurant in Maryland. I did a little more research on the spicy paste and found actually a North African condiment and there are tons of different ways of making it. I’m pretty sure there is no wrong way of making it. In my version, I added some parsley, mint, and lemon to make it a bit more complex.


Harissa (spicy chili pepper paste)


4 sundried tomatoes packed in oil
3 mini red bell peppers or ½ red bell pepper- seeds removed and roasted
4 ounces dried chilies- see notes below
1 teaspoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried mint
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 ½ teaspoons coriander
1 clove of garlic peeled
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil plus more for drizzling


Kitchen equipment needed:
Food processor


  1. Start by roasting the red pepper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle the pepper with a little olive oil and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes or until softened and browned on the outside skin. Once cooled- peel and seed the pepper and place in the food processor.
  2. Place the dried chilies on a bowl. Add boiling water to cover and let peppers rehydrate for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes- drain and remove the stem and seeds from the chilies and place in a food processor.
  3. Meanwhile, measure out the caraway, cumin and coriander. Dry roast the spices in a sauce pan over medium heat until slightly toasted and fragrant. Once slightly cooled- grind the spices with a mortar and pestle.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor- tomatoes, spices, garlic, parsley, mint, lemon, olive oil- and blend until you get a thick, smooth paste. You may have to stop the food processor a couple of times to scrape down the sides.
  5. Store in an airtight jar or container and top the sauce with a thin layer of olive oil.


Note on chilies: I’ve hear that any type of dried chili works fine for this paste. I used 2 ounces of ancho and 2 ounces of guajillo chilies to make mine. I suggest checking out this page that I found when I was making some of my own chorizo and wasn’t sure what chilies to use. It lists the chilies by heat level. I would, however, suggest staying away from super-hot peppers like habaneros or tiny hot Thai chilies. We usually buy our dried chilies in the international section of our local grocery store or at Mexican markets.


I’ve used this sauce in a variety of ways. As an extra sauce on salads, mixed with mayonnaise to make a sandwich spread, as a dipping sauce for parties, or brushed on grilled meats. I made an awesome Mediterranean chicken salad with harissa, marinated red onions, tahini dressing, grilled chicken, olives, and salad greens. Here’s what it looks like. I linked to all the other recipes related to this meal too so you can check them out.

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