Home-Made Harissa: An Anti-Inflammatory Condiment


Harissa is a spice paste from North Africa made with peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and cumin. You can buy it in well-stocked grocery stores but it's easy and inexpensive to make yourself. Built around some basic ingredients, recipes for harissa can vary from region to region or even family to family. In mine you'll find a bit of turmeric and black pepper to maximize the antioxidant and anti-cancer benefits inherent in this healthy condiment.

In Morocco, harissa is traditionally served with stews and tagines. We think of these hot and heavy dishes as winter food but in Northern Africa they are served throughout the hottest weather. It's a good idea because chili peppers can make you sweat, and ultimately, that cools down the body.

I see harissa as a summer staple. It pairs so well with grilled meat and veggies, alone as a spicy condiment or whisked into strained or Greek yogurt as a mild dipping sauce. Harissa can also be used as a marinade (I like it for tofu and chicken) or as a spread for sandwiches and burgers. And it can spice up salad dressings, marinara sauce, hummus, and even scrambled eggs.


1 large red bell pepper
1 ounce dried red chilies
2 tablespoons cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
A few drops of orange flower water (distilled not flavored, optional)

  1. Add the chili peppers to a small saucepan along with with enough water to cover them. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for two minutes while stirring and submerging them in the water with a slotted spoon. Turn off the heat and cover. Set aside for 10 minutes or more.
  2. Blacken the bell pepper over a flame on a gas stove or cut it in half and broil it, cut-side down until blackened. Place the blackened pepper in a glass or stainless steel bowl, cover it with a plate, and set it aside to steam.
  3. To a Vitamix, blender, or food processor, add the olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric, tomato paste, and flower water.
  4. Once the bell pepper is cool enough to handle, use clean hands to slide off the skins and remove the seeds, then tear them into pieces and drop them into to the Vitamix. Do not rinse them.
  5. Strain the chili peppers and reserve the liquid in case you want to adjust the consistency of the harissa later. Add the chili peppers to the Vitamix.
  6. Blend everything into a smooth paste. Taste for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. Add a splash of water to thin it out if need be. 
  7. Store the harissa a labeled airtight container in the fridge.