The sauce harissa comes from North Africa and is made from a few ingredients to create a bright red, spicy paste. It’s an excellent condiment for spicing up your dishes, as a dip or garnish.
What is harissa? I would describe it as a citrusy, garlicky, spicy sauce made with olive oil and a few other seasonings for a tangy, sweet garnish that can be used in a variety of ways.
What is harissa sauce most like? Because it’s a red condiment, people will compare it to sriracha or ketchup, but that doesn’t quite take into account how utterly delightful and complex harissa sauce is. It could also be really spicy, which isn’t typically a characteristic of ketchup.
While it is a condiment that’s used through parts of Africa and it has made its way over to the Middle East and some Western countries, it’s also very much a unique thing and worth trying your hand at to make from scratch.
What Does Harissa Taste Like?
This is an incredibly hot sauce, with a smoky and peppery flavor that can be more or less hot depending on the ingredients you use. Its heat comes down to the chilis and peppers you put in it, and the flavor is packed with potent garlic taste and some slight citrus edged in as well.
Where Is Harissa from?
It’s originally from North Africa, particularly the countries of Morocco, Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia. You can find it in some specialty groceries and restaurants, particularly African-themed ones, but most people will have to learn how to make harissa paste themselves.
It’s starting to gain a little global notoriety, especially since really spicy foods are in vogue. This is a sauce that you can make really, really hot, if you wanted to, just by using the right combination of peppers and spices.
What Is Harissa Paste?
You can make harissa as a sauce or a paste. As a paste, harissa will usually be made from sun dried tomatoes, chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, and a few spices. This thick paste is really good for adding to pasta or other dishes when you want to incorporate it rather than use it as a garnish or dip.
How to use harissa paste in your foods? It’s a really good addition to soup if you want to make the soup thicker, spicier, and more flavorful. Keep in mind that you can control the spice levels and make it as hot or as mild as you want. Just pay attention to what kind of spicy ingredients you’re putting in and how much of them you’re using.
Harissa doesn’t have to be spicy at all, though it traditionally is.
When you make the paste, you’ll typically use tomato paste as a base. This ensures you get a strong red color as well as a thick pasty texture. You could make your own tomato paste or make things easier on yourself and just buy canned tomato paste already made up.
To make this space really complex and interesting, I use several different kinds of chiles. chilis de arbol and New Mexico chiles are really good options, but you can feel free to mix things up and use different chiles based on whatever your preferences are or what do you have on hand.
What Is Harissa Powder?
Harissa is not just a slightly liquid condiment. It can also be a dry powder, used as a seasoning. If you’re wondering what is harissa seasoning or powder, it’s similarly red and spicy like the paste or the sauce, but it comes in dry form so it can be more easily mixed into dry ingredients.
You can use this powder in anything you want to give a more complex flavor to it or add some heat too. If you have a bland dish like potatoes, pasta, rice, lentils, or even a soup that’s not very flavorful, try adding a little harissa powder to that and see the difference it makes.
How to Make Harissa
Let me share with you a recipe for harissa sauce. You’ll do slightly different things if you’re making harissa powder or paste, but a lot of the basics are the same, and they share many of the same ingredients.
- 7 dried New Mexico chiles (other spicy chiles work as well)
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
- 6 ounces of dried red roasted pepper
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
- Salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds (ground and toasted)
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin is preferable)
- Prepare your chiles by soaking them in a heat safe bowl and then covering them up with warm water. Set the chiles aside to soak for about 30 minutes. That should give them time to become tender and to rehydrate. Then, drain the chiles completely and take out the seeds and stems.
- Mix all of the rest of your ingredients with the chiles for the next step. You want to do this in a large food processor that has a blade attached. Add in the chiles, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, garlic, red peppers, a pinch of salt, smoked paprika, and lemon juice.
- Turn on the food processor and add in olive oil as the sauce is processing. Turn off the processor and scrape the sauce off the sides, and then run the processor again until it reaches the right texture for the harissa sauce.
- You can add more seasonings as necessary after you taste the finished sauce. You might want a little more salt or pepper or some more heat to be added to it to get the right flavor.
If you’ve never made a sauce like this before, you should know that the flavor changes and deepens over time. After a few hours, you’ll have a more complex and stronger flavor.
You can store harissa sauce in the fridge in an airtight jar. Put a little layer of olive oil on the top to keep it moist.