Moroccan Harissa

Moroccan Harissa


Flavors of Morocco

Origins are a bit sketchy, but harissa is found across the Middle East and North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia, as well as in France. Rich, earthy, and spicy, harissa is served with couscous and tagines, and found at nearly every food stall and restaurant across Morocco.

Recipes also vary widely, but most harissas include assorted dried chilies, garlic, olive oil and spices including cumin, coriander, sometimes caraway. Harissa is widely available commercially in bottles, tubes, and cans…but not to be confused with harissa l’ eau de toilette by Comme de Garcon for you fashion forward cooks!  I kid you not.


  • 6 dried red chilies
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds 
  • 1/2  teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon reserved chili seeds 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil + more for storing
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon  tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
  • a pinch of sugar
  • couscous broth for thinning

Split the dried chilies lengthwise and remove the seeds and reserve the seeds for toasting.  Tear the chilies into pieces and place in a sauce pan with water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook 15 minutes or until the chilies are very soft. Drain and set aside.

Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, and chili seeds in a dry sauté pan over low heat. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Once the seeds are cool, place in a suribachi (a very handy Japanese pottery mortar with ridged interior for grinding spices) or spice grinder and grind to a medium blend. Set aside.

Add 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil to a saute pan, over medium heat, and when hot add the onions and and saute until soft. Add the garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes until just beginning to color. Add the drained red chilies, the ground cumin, coriander, caraway, and chili seeds and saute for a minute or two while stirring. Add the tomato paste to one side of the pan to caramelize and then stir it into the chilies and herbs while adding the lemon juice, salt, and pinch of sugar. Transfer the ingredients to a small food processor and blitz into a thick puree, adding an additional 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil as you blitz. The harissa should be the consistency of heavy cream. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

When you are ready to serve, you may add couscous broth to thin the harissa slightly so that it is easily spooned or poured onto the couscous.

Transfer to a small serving bowl or pitcher and serve with couscous, grilled meats, fish, or even slathered on a sandwich.

 To store, place in a jar and, when completely cool, pour a little olive oil over the harissa to seal it. Put the lid on the jar and refrigerate. The harissa will keep for about a week refrigerated. It also freezes well for longer storage.


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