Although harissa is an important condiment that is served throughout North Africa, it is Tunisian cuisine that is inextricably linked with this powerful sauce. In Tunisia it will be used in many couscous dishes and soups, as well as being placed on the table so the diner can add extra to their taste. As a snack, flatbread is served with harissa to dip. You would really have to love hot stuff to do that.

I will give you a couple of recipes, the first is more traditional, but be warned it is very hot. The second is my adaptation for those with a tamer palate.

Harissa 1


Drain the chillies and roughly chop. Place all the ingredients bar the salt, pepper and oil into a mortar and grind to a smooth paste with a pestle. Add the oil in a thin stream and continue to grind away. Taste for salt and pepper and blow you mind! You can use a food processor instead.

Harissa 2

  • 5 Large dried red chillies, de-seeded and soaked
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds, roasted and ground
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds, roasted and ground
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds, roasted and ground
  • ¼ preserved lemon, chopped or juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 roma tomatoes, oven roasted for 20 minutes
  • 2 Tbs. flaked almonds
  • 1 Red capsicum, roasted peeled and de-seeded
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil

See harissa 1

Another variant, similar to Sneff's version 2 but with the red pepper more dominant. This is (with the stated quantities) fairly mild, eminently usable as a dipping sauce by people who do not want to treat eating as an endurance contest. Trivially adapted from something provided by our veg box people as a garnish/ingredient to be stirred into carrot soup, but it is extremely versatile and goes with or in all sorts of shit.


  • 3 red peppers, roasted, peeled and de-seeded
  • 6 chilli peppers, dried and soaked or fresh, or more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin (ideally freshly roasted and ground)
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds (likewise)
  • 1/2 tsp ground caraway seeds (ditto)
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice or more to taste
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • a couple of cloves of garlic
  • 5 tbsp of good olive oil

Once the peppers have been prepared and the chillies soaked and the spices ground (most of the labour if you're doing things the hard way), stick everything except the oil in a food processor/blender, spin it up and then pour oil in slowly until it makes a smooth, fairly thick sauce. Makes 300 ml or so, a jam jar full. Keeps for a few weeks in the fridge.

As you can probably work out for yourselves from this version and those written up by the inestimable Sneff, harissa is the sort of thing that you make using whatever you have at the time, and tweak a bit each time until you find the mix that works for you.

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