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Hot! Hot! Hot! And then some!

We need to make up a little something for the coffee/social hour at church this coming Sunday, so we started by thinking about what would be good. We ultimately settled on crackers and dip, partly because we had just checked out Crackers and Dips: More than 50 Handmade Snacks, by Ivy Manning. One of the recipes called for harissa. Now, at the time, we were pretty sure we’d heard of harissa, but it wasn’t as if we had any in the cupboard, or had even seen harissa at the store. Did that stop us? No! With the power of the Internet, we learned a bit about harissa, and, thanks to theKitchn, had some idea how to make it, too.

Harissa turns out to be a chile/spice paste that has its origins in Tunisia, where it’s used pretty much as an all-purpose condiment, similar to sriracha, or even Tabasco Brand hot sauce. We happened to have almost everything on hand, so we were off and scratchin’. We did change it just a bit, but, apparently, harissa is similar to curry powder, in that everyone seems to make it just a bit differently.  You can make your own custom harissa; just follow along, substituting if need be, and you’ll have your own batch, too. It takes a only few minutes.

Makes 1/2 cup.




  • 2 oz dried chili pods (about 12)
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Abbreviated Instructions

Cover chili pods with boiling water. Let stand 30 minutes.

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast seeds until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add spice powders and toast 1 minute more. Place in the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse seeds and spices until ground. Add garlic and salt.

Remove stems and seeds from chiles. Add chiles to food processor.

Process until finely chopped. Slowly add olive oil until a paste forms, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

Pack paste in jar, pour olive oil over the top, cover, and refrigerate.


Ingredient discussion:

Chiles: use whatever you have on hand. They can be spicy, they can be mild, or even a mix. If you’re going to buy dried chilies for this, we’d suggest a mix of different chili peppers to increase the depth of flavor. Spices: think of the ones listed as suggestions. You could vary them a bit; for example, leave out the coriander, and include mint leaves. Or perhaps the zest of a lemon instead of the cumin. Or just add new flavors, maybe 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, or a bit of nutmeg.

Procedure in detail:

chili pods
Rehydrate the pods by soaking in hot water for about 30 minutes. Then de-stem and de-seed.

Soak pods. Place the chili pods in a heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over them, and let steep for 30 minutes. This will rehydrate the peppers a bit, but not completely; they will still be a bit dry, but that’s okay; it’s easier to seed dried peppers, anyway.

toasting spices
Toast the seeds longer than the powders. Be sure to do this; after all, you’re waiting for the chiles, anyway.

Toast spices. Meanwhile, place the seeds in a small skillet over medium heat and toast until they just turn fragrant, about 5 minutes. Then add any spice powders you’re using and toast for a minute more. Basically, you want to toast and cook the spices to remove some of the raw taste, and the seeds will take a bit longer than the powders. Once toasted, remove from heat.

grinding spices
We just processed our seeds a whole bunch in the food processor. If you have a better way of grinding spices, use that. We didn’t want to clean our spice grinder for such a small amount of spices.

Grind spices. You can grind the spices in a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder, or like us, give them some serious whirring action in the food processor. After they’re ground, add the garlic cloves and salt.

Removing the seeds will keep the harissa from becoming super-hot. Plus the seeds don't grind up as well as the pods.
Removing the seeds will keep the harissa from becoming super-hot. Plus the seeds don’t grind up as well as the pods.

Clean pods. Take the chili pods out of the water and remove the stems and seeds. If you’re using spicy chiles, you might want to wear gloves during this procedure, or, at the very least, be very, very aware of where you touch. If you rub your eyes, ouch. As you clean the pods, drop them into the bowl of the food processor along with the spices.

After processing for a minutes, you'll end up with ground chiles, now start adding olive oil a bit at a time.
After processing for a few minutes, you’ll end up with ground chiles. Now start adding olive oil a bit at a time.

Process. Start processing those chiles and keep going until you’ve ground them up quite a bit. If needed, scrape down the sides of the bowl several times.

Add oil. With the processor running, slowly pour in olive oil until a thick paste forms. Again, you’ll have to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.

This stuff is hot! And then some!

Pack. Scrape out the paste into a clean jar and pack it down to remove the air. Pour olive oil over the top until all the paste is submerged.

Refrigerate. Close the jar, and place it in the fridge. It should keep for about a month.

There are no two ways about it: if you like hot, spicy foods, this stuff rocks. Ours made one of us break into a sweat from just the tiniest little piece; the other is conspicuously absent when the harissa jar comes out for a taste test. The best part of this is really that it’s not all about heat; instead, with the addition of the spices, it has a depth of flavor unlike any ordinary hot sauce, which makes it much more versatile, since you can add it to dishes that need both a kick and some additional flavor. Over all, one of us gives it five atomic stars, and the other won’t touch it.

Worth the trouble?

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