Katie's Healthy Bites: Make Your Own Harissa

Found in every North African household, harissa – a thick, hot chile paste – is an intensely flavorful, must-have condiment that's gaining popularity in the US. Here's how to make this spicy staple.


Found in every North African household, harissa -- a thick, hot chile paste -- is an intensely flavorful, must-have condiment that's gaining popularity in the US. Like ketchup is to many Americans, most North Africans cannot imagine a meal without this delicious, fiery flavor, so it takes its rightful place on the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table! Follow suit, and try this homemade harissa recipe for yourself. Drizzle it over couscous or rice, spice up your soups or stews, salads, mix it into pasta sauce, or use as a topper for grilled meats.

Homemade Harissa

Yield: 1/2 cup


12 dried Piri Piri (African Bird's Eye) Chiles : Use this variety or a variety of peppers, like Serrano, ancho, guaijillo, or chipotle peppers. For a milder version, add a little bit of tomato sauce or substitute 1 bell pepper for 4 chiles.

3 garlic cloves: It shouldn’t overpower the sauce but instead act as subtle undertone.

2 teaspoons cumin: A bit of this spice will bring an earthy, warming, floral flavor to the paste.

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander: Native to North Africa, this herb’s sweet, citrus-like taste compliments cumin perfectly!

Juice of half a lemon: The citrus brightens the flavors of the harissa.

1 teaspoon honey (optional): the sweetness balances the spice for a more well rounded flavor

Salt, to taste: Add just a small pinch (less than 1/8 teaspoon) for flavor.

2 to 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil: For a cheaper, yet flavorful alternative to pure olive oil, mix 1 part olive oil with 3 parts canola oil.


Place dried chiles in a heat-proof bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes until the chiles are softened. Reserve chili water. (If you are using fresh chiles, throw them onto the grill or over an open flame until browned on all sides.)

Once chiles are softened, cut the top off and remove the seeds (for more heat…include some of the seeds). Add to the food processor or blender, along with the cumin, coriander, lemon, honey and chili water). Puree, slowly pouring in the oil to emulsify and thicken mixture  You can add more chile water or plain water to thin the sauce, though it should have a thick, ketchup-like consistency). Season to taste with salt.


Kept in the fridge, it can be used for about a month. Top it off with olive oil so it does not dry out.

Nutrition Information Per Serving:
Calories: 40
Protein: .28 grams
Carbohydrates: 2.1 grams
Total Fat: 3.5 grams
Saturated Fat: .2 grams
Cholesterol: O milligrams
Sodium: 37 milligrams
Fiber: .6 grams

Katie Cavuto Boyle, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, personal chef and owner of HealthyBites, LLC. See Katie's full bio » Amanda Frankeny also contributed to this blog.

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