← Back to Search Results
African, Tunisian, mediterranean
Harissa Recipe-9864

Photo by: Joseph De Leo
Comments: 0


On a recent trip to Tunisia, I saw a cooking demonstration in which harissa was prepared in several different ways. Frankly, I came away in a state of confusion and have since done my best to decipher the ingredients in versions I’ve tasted in New York, and have consulted the works of my favorite North African food experts, Paula Wolfert (Mediterranean Grains and Greens), Kitty Morse (North Africa: The Vegetarian Table), and Habeeb Salloum and James Peters (From the Lands of Figs and Olives). Like so many recipes, nobody seems to agree on everything, but certain ingredients appear with sufficient frequency that I feel confident they’re authentic. Most surprising are caraway seeds (something I associate with rye bread and aquavit), but the other ingredients are typical of cooking throughout the Mediterranean. Lest I lead you to think that making harissa is an entirely straightforward process, I must warn you that another spice mixture—tabil—enters into its preparation and that, in order to grind the tabil in the blender (although if you use a coffee grinder, you can make less), you’ll need to make enough to last you a rather long time. You may, however, find yourself an harissa addict—I smear it on toast and dollop it on just about any stewlike dish of meat or fish.

Yield: Make 1 2/3 cups


The Tabil

  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons good quality curry powder

The Harissa

  • 6 ancho chilies, dust wiped off with a damp towel
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped and crushed to a paste with the side of a chef's knife
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ripe tomato, peeled, halved crosswise, seeds squeezed out, and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup pure  olive oil (not extra virgin) or vegetable oil

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


First the tabil (To make 1/3 cup): Combine the caraway seeds, coriander seeds, and good quality curry powder in a coffee grinder (if you’re using a blender, you’ll need to double these quantities) and puree to a powder, about 2 minutes. (Most recipes for tabil call for red pepper, but since we add it later to the harissa, there’s no need to use it here.) The tabil will keep in a small jar in the freezer for up to a year.

Now the harissa: Cut the stems off the chilies and then cut the chilies lengthwise in half. Brush out the seeds. Put the chilies in a bowl and pour over 2 cups of boiling water. Let the chilies soak until they become pliable and leathery, about 30 minutes. Drain, squeeze out the excess water, and discard the soaking liquid. Coarsely chop the chilies.

Combine the chilies and the rest of the ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil in a blender and puree until smooth. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and work in the extra virgin olive oil a tablespoon at a time. (I don't put the extra virgin olive oil in the blender with the rest of the ingredients because it sometimes turns bitter.)

© 2001 James Peterson

Nutritional Information

Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

Nutritional information is based on 26 servings.

42kcal (2%)
8mg (1%)
1mg (2%)
4mcg RAE (0%)
0mg (0%)
90mg (4%)
0g (2%)
4g (7%)
0mg (1%)

Would you like to leave a comment about this recipe?

Notify me of new comments on this recipe. Add comment

We'd love to hear what you think!

Please or to add a comment to this recipe.

Sign up for
The Cookstr Weekly

Free handpicked cookbook recipes delivered straight to your inbox

Explore Cookbooks on Cookstr

young-and-hungry-more-than-100-recipes-for-cooking-fresh-and-affordable-food-for-everyone Young and Hungry: More Than...
by Dave Lieberman
american-masala American Masala
by Suvir Saran
125-best-vegan-recipes 125 Best Vegan Recipes
by Maxine Effenson Chuck, Beth Gurney
the-asian-grandmothers-cookbook The Asian Grandmothers Cook...
by Patricia Tanumihardja
lidias-italy Lidia's Italy
by Lidia Bastianich
gluten-free-and-vegan-holidays Gluten-Free and Vegan Holidays
by Jennifer Katzinger
lucid-food Lucid Food
by Louisa Shafia
the-lee-bros-southern-cookbook-stories-and-recipes-for-southerners-and-would-be-southerners The Lee Bros. Southern Cook...
by Ted Lee, Matt Lee
food-to-live-by Food to Live By
by Myra Goodman
bistro-cooking-at-home-more-than-150-classic-and-contemporary-dishes Bistro Cooking at Home: Mor...
by Gordon Hamersley
big-fat-cookies Big Fat Cookies
by Elinor Klivans
how-to-be-a-domestic-goddess How to be a Domestic Goddess
by Nigella Lawson
ham-an-obsession-with-the-hindquarter Ham: An Obsession with the ...
by Bruce Weinstein, Mark Scarbrough
flavor Flavor
by Rocco DiSpirito
cooking-for-friends Cooking for Friends
by Gordon Ramsay

Thanks for signing up!

You'll receive an activation email in your inbox shortly. Don't forget to click that link and activate your new Cookstr.com account!

Already a member? Sign in here

Sign up for Cookstr!

  • Receive a free, handpicked selection of recipes in your inbox weekly
  • Save, share and comment on your favorite recipes in My Cookstr
  • Get updates on new cookbooks, Cookstr features, and other exclusives we know you'll love
By signing up you accept the
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
New to Cookstr? Sign up here
Thanks for commenting!
Would you like to share your comment on Facebook or Twitter?