A typical North African spice blend, harissa is made from a combination of oil, dried chilies, and spices. There are lots of variations, and in addition to those hot peppers, harissa usually includes garlic, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper. Harissa recipes differ based on geographic regions and the preferences of the chef, but it can also contain caraway or coriander seeds, lemon or preserved lemon, and tomato paste or sun-dried tomatoes. Mint and rose petals are other potential additions to this zesty spread!
Harissa is spicy. It’s aromatic. It’s different. And you should be using it!
Harissa is hot and slightly smokey, and it turns out it’s incredibly versatile.
A staple in North African cuisine, you’ll find harissa on the table at almost every meal in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. In these counties, harissa is frequently used as a condiment, but recipes often feature it as a base in their soups, stews, and curries. Each family is likely to have their own harissa recipe, and its flavour can vary from one neighborhood to the next.
You can find harissa in jars, tubes, and cans at Middle Eastern markets, but for an easy spread or dip, Zest & Zing’s blend can be mixed with a little olive oil to create a ready-made appetizer. You can amp it up with red peppers or tomatoes to serve with fresh bread or toasted pitas.
Harissa Tips & Tricks
People in North Africa will add harissa to anything and everything – it’s as common there as ketchup is in the West. But harissa is way more complex flavour wise, plus it’s got that spicy kick. Middle Eastern recipes might also use it as a marinade for kebabs and proteins like lamb or fish.
Harissa is an easy and unique addition to many side dishes. You can add it to your couscous to turn it up a notch. Swirl some into your hummus for dipping, or serve it on top of falafel. You can even top your pizza with it. It’s the fragrant condiment you never knew you needed!
Use it in unexpected ways as well. Blend harissa with oil to dress your root vegetables before roasting. Or add it to pasta sauces for that zing of chilli. Mix it into the cooking water for your rice or couscous to create a bold background flavour.
Spread it on red meat before grilling. A thin cut of meat like flank steak will absorb its flavours especially well.
Need Some Unique Ideas and Inspiration for Your Harissa?
If you want to go the more authentic route, try your hand at Leblebi, this North African Chickpea Soup. Make a Harissa Chicken Curry with red lentils and a cool yogurt sauce. Or give a traditional Middle Eastern egg dish a little North African flare with a recipe for Shakshuka with Harissa. And if you’ve already tasted harissa with your hummus and olive oil and bread, then take the next step and check out this savory and nutty Smoky Harissa Eggplant Dip that looks amazing served with toasted pitas and sliced cucumbers.