Meet Harissa, My Current Condiment Crush

Harissa, in its colorful roasted glory

Harissa, in its colorful roasted glory

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately canning, roasting, freezing, and otherwise processing vegetables while they are ubiquitous, so I will have things that I can quickly grab later in the year, especially in the winter.  While I have been doing a lot of blog-worthy cooking, I have not been taking the time to do the writing and photography, so perhaps I will catch up as the harvesting winds down.

After making some pretty tasty meatballs with harissa, lamb, and venison,  and after some inquiries from friends who tasted them, I need to follow my own best advice (“Write it down, will you?”),  so we can perhaps replicate some of that roasted pepper flavor down the road.


Several things this summer/fall have led me to the recipe that follows:

  • a delicious merguez and harissa dog with grilled haloumi at Hot Doug’s in Chicago
  • a search for new things to do with CSA peppers
  • planning the upcoming home sausage making day, thinking of spice combinations
  • reading new books on sausages and charcuterie
  • planning menus for dinner parties

In the process, I’ve come up with my own version of harissa.  I started with a recipe from the kitchn, but I’ve moved on a bit, given my current mix of available peppers and chilies, spices, and whim.  I can see myself making this with just dried chilies in the winter, but I like the body and flavor that roasted fresh peppers add, making it a little more saucy and a little less paste-like.  The recipe below is my second attempt, which is an attempt to be more spicy, but still well within the range of most diners.  I love the flavor, but I think a bit more kick wouldn’t hurt.  When this is combined with meat, the spiciness is a little tempered.

This is a perfect thing to make when you are puttering around the house, as there are little bits of effort that can be spaced out between inexact periods of reading/chores/napping/what-have-you.  This is also the perfect example of why a good food processor makes your life better.   It’s too big a job for stick blenders, would be an upper body fitness plan with a mortar and pestle, and probably not liquid enough for most regular blenders. (I expect comments from Vitamix owners, who will remind me that they have more than enough power available to them.  Ilene Ross?)



  • skillet for toasting spices (I have a small cast iron one that gets used for this job)
  • food processor (I have a 12 cup one, and did this in 2 batches)
  • sheet pan(s) or roasting pan(s) for roasting peppers
  • foil or parchment paper (for easy cleanup of roasting pans)
  • silicon spatula/scraper
  • spice grinder or mortar and pestle (optional)
  • measuring spoons
  • garlic press (optional)
  • kettle, or other device for boiling water
  • medium bowl or large liquid measuring cup for rehydrating peppers
  • large bowl for mixing it all together
  • gloves (disposable or rubber) for handling peppers (optional but recommended)


  • 1 Tablespoon (3 teaspoons) coriander seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon (Tbs) cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt, or more, to taste
  • garlic cloves, peeled – I had some HUGE garlic cloves, and in this last batch, used about four of them.  Use more if you love garlic,  or have smaller cloves
  • 3 fresh poblano peppers
  • 9 large red bell peppers (they were 3 for $2, and I didn’t have small bills at the farmer’s market)
  • 5 fresh jalapenos (again, they were 5 for $1)
  • 8 dried Hatch chilies (what I had in the cupboard)
  • 3 dried mulato chilies (again, what I had on hand.  I’m guessing ancho would work well here, too)
  • about 4 oz (120 ml) olive oil, plus more for storage



1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F – 400 degrees F (around 200 degrees C).  Line roasting or sheet pans with parchment or foil for ease in cleanup.  (See Luisa Weiss’s method for roasting peppers here, for more detail).  Wash and dry the fresh peppers (red bell, poblano, jalapeno), and roast them in the oven for an hour or so, turning them occasionally (every 20 min. or so), so they blacken evenly on all sides.

2.  In the meantime, boil about a quart/liter of water.  Place the dried chilies in a medium bowl, and pour the boiling water over them.  (I weighted them down with a saucer to keep them submerged)  Let sit at least 30 minutes to re-hydrate, and for the water to cool some.

3.  Put the seeds in the skillet over low heat, and toast them, giving them a shake occasionally. You want them to be toasted and fragrant, but not burned.  This is not a good time to step away.  When you can smell the spices, and they seem toasted, turn off the heat and let them cool.

4.  When the peppers are evenly blackened (the house will smell great), take the peppers out of the oven and let them cool.

5. Put on your gloves now- it is time to peel, stem, and seed the peppers (both roasted and re-hydrated).  This is the fussy and messy part.  Good music or podcasts are helpful during this chore.  Depending on your tolerance for capsaicin, you may not need to be as thorough as I am on removing the seeds, but I’m conservative at first, and wilder once you know me. Paper towels or rinse water are good to have for this part of the process.

6. Now for the power tools!  Grind up your cooled toasted spices (I use an old coffee grinder, which has been benched from the varsity (coffee), and now starring on the spice team), press your garlic, and throw them all together with half of your seeded peppers and chilies in your food processor.  Blitz this until it becomes a puree (it’s OK if it has little flecks of chili, that’s the way I like it), and gradually pour the olive oil down the feed tube, with the motor running.  Stop the processor, and scrape the contents into a large bowl with your spatula/scraper.  Blitz the remaining peppers and chilies.  Add them to the first batch, and mix it all together.  Taste.  Adjust salt, if needed,  and add some of the soaking liquid from the re-hydrated chilis, if you want it to be thinner.  If it’s not spicy enough, now would be the time to add some cayenne, or your favorite alternative.

7.  Store in plastic containers or jars.  I froze two containers, and kept one in the fridge.  If you refrigerate it, put a slick of olive oil over the top, to keep the peppers from oxidizing.

Yield was a little more than two pints from this version.


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2 Responses to Meet Harissa, My Current Condiment Crush

  1. Would it make sense to “gut” the bell peppers before roasting them? It would seem to me to be much easier to work with raw peppers that had some body and structural integrity. After roasting i would think it would be tedious to pick the seeds and pith out of the squishy cooked flesh. (I know, I know, I should be thankful that we’re not working with okra. 🙂

  2. Jennifer says:

    I thought about this, and I did actually seed the larger dried peppers before soaking them. It might work, but you still have to peel the roasted peppers, since the roasting is what makes them easy to peel. I guess it depends if you want to do all the prep in one step, or if you’d rather break it up. If you did break down the fresh peppers, you’d want the pieces you roast to be large enough to be easy to peel, as it would be futsy to peel small strips of roasted peppers, just like it’s futsy to get seeds out of slippery peppers. You pick your poison, as they say.

What do YOU think?