What Is Harissa?

updated Sep 29, 2022
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Maybe you’ve heard of harissa, but have you ever tried it? If you love condiments and adding a kick of spice to your meals, you’ll want to check this out! Harissa is a spicy and aromatic chile paste that’s a widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking.

What is Harissa Made Of

Harissa recipes vary between countries and regions, but a standard version includes a blend of hot chile peppers (which are often smoked), garlic, olive oil and spices, like cumin, coriander, caraway and mint. Tomatoes and rose petals are also common ingredients.

Even if you love spicy food, harissa packs quite a punch. A little goes a long way.

Where to Find Harissa

Harissa is most commonly found ready-made in jars, tubes and cans. A spice powder version is also available. Your best bet for finding harissa is Middle Eastern markets, specialty stores and in the ethnic section of most grocery stores.

You can also make it yourself. It’s really easy!

How to Use Harissa

I think the better question is, how can you not use harissa!

This flavor-packed paste can be used to enhance soups, stews, appetizers and main dishes. Use it as a marinade for meat and fish. Blend it into hummus, or any of your favorite dips. Use it as a spread to liven up your pizza. I love adding a spoonful to a bowl of olive oil…it’s bread dipping heaven.

Have you ever tried harissa? What’s your favorite way to incorporate it into a meal?

Updated from a post originally published August 2009.