Field Notes

Harissa Recipes: Red & Green

There’s plenty of high-quality store-bought harissa out there. In fact, even most North Africans buy harissa rather than make it. In his book New Moroccan, San Francisco chef Mourad Lahlou remarks that only very rich families in Morocco make their harissa from scratch. Everyone else buys it from the store.

But for us, homemade harissa is a chance to experiment with different chili pepper profiles, and our batches can vary widely from one to the next. Use the following recipes as suggestions more than hard and fast rules and see where a little improvisation leads you.

Red Harissa

Makes about 16 ounces

This basic harissa recipe can be customized to your liking. Want a hotter paste? Use chilies with more heat to them. We used guajillo and New Mexico chilies, which produced a mild to medium flavor. Throw a few chipotles in the mix for a smokier harissa.

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 tomato
  • 4 ounces mixed medium heat chiles, dry
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus more to coat

Preheat the oven to 350°. Roast the bell pepper and the tomato on a baking sheet for 45 minutes, turning every 15 minutes until the skin begins to blister on all sides. Remove from the oven and wrap the sheet with plastic wrap. Let sit 10 minutes, then remove the skin from the pepper and tomato.

Place the dry chilies in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let sit 10 to 20 minutes until the chilies have softened. Drain the chilies, remove the stems and add to a blender or food processor. Add the peeled bell pepper and tomato, garlic cloves, sugar, caraway seeds, cumin, and salt. Blend on high, adding the olive oil in a slow drizzle to combine. When the mixture forms a puree, transfer it to a sealable container and top with a thin layer of olive oil. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Green Harissa

Makes about 12 ounces

This alternative chili paste has been appearing on restaurant menus of late: it takes the same fundamentals of red harissa but swaps in green chilies and green herbs for a different take. It very much resembles a Yemeni condiment called z’houg, and indeed this version takes its flavor cues from a classic z’houg recipe. The cardamom really sets this sauce apart.

  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 8 ounces fresh green chilies such as poblano, cubanelle, or jalapeño
  • 1 cup parsley
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus more

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the fresh chilies on a baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour, turning every 15 minutes, until the chilies have softened and their skins are blistered. Remove from the oven and wrap the baking sheet with plastic wrap. Let sit 10 minutes, then peel the chilies, remove their stems and transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the cilantro, parsley, cardamom, coriander, cumin, garlic, vinegar and salt. Blend on high, adding the olive oil in a slow drizzle to combine. When the mixture forms a puree, transfer it to a sealable container and top with a thin layer of olive oil. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.