What Is Harissa Sauce?

by Rachel Vega

Bowl of olives with harissa sauce on them

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A spicy, chili-flavored paste from the Middle East and North Africa, harissa sauce, usually known as simply harissa, adds pizzazz to many dishes. It is extremely popular in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco as well as in France and Israel.

Red or Green Harissa

Most harissas are red, but there are also green varieties. Green harissa is made with green chilies, spinach, herbs such as cilantro and mint, and spices. Moroccan harissa tends toward the gentler side, usually incorporating just rehydrated red chilies, tomato paste and salt, but in Tunisia and Algeria, garlic and lots of spices are added.

Harissa Ingredients

Chili peppers are the main ingredient and are sometimes smoked, but other ingredients include garlic, salt, coriander, caraway, verbena leaves, cumin, dried mint, parsley, dill, tomatoes, rose petals, various vegetables, different nuts or different oils like olive or caraway. If you’re looking for one flavor across the board, try something completely different. Similar to many types of sauce, harissa recipes vary from region to region and family recipe to family recipe.

Using Harissa

The traditional accompaniment to coucous, harissa also can be used for flavoring merguez sausage, a spicy Tunisian variety; as a condiment on other cooked foods such as falafel or fish; as a rub for meat before cooking; and it also can be added to soups and stews to give them an extra kick. Thinning it out and adding broth can turn harissa into a rich broth on its own.

Where to Find It

Buy harissa from Middle Eastern markets, specialty stores and gourmet markets, online or in the ethnic aisle of most supermarkets. It comes in cans, jars and tubes. Or, experiment with different recipes and make your own with the simple ingredients.

Considerations

The pastelike consistency of harissa was originally achieved by pounding ingredients together, but you can use a food processor. Covered with oil, harissa will last for several weeks in the refrigerator. Because harissa can be spicy, use it sparingly until you become more familiar with its flavor. Add a small amount at a time to the dish until you are satisfied with its heat and flavor.

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About the Author

Rachel Vega has been writing since her teens and joined Demand Studios in 2009. She attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook where she received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology. She received certification as a webmaster from Merrimack College and currently studies construction management at Northeastern University.