Harissa (WHB#83: garlic)

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recipe: harissa (fabulous Middle Eastern condiment made with cayenne pepper, cumin, caraway, coriander seed, salt, garlic, and olive oil)

Weekend Herb Blogging #83 – Garlic (Allium sativum)

(click on image for larger view and more photos)

harissa Some time ago, we read about harissa in At Home in Provence by Patricia Wells. She wrote the following at the top of her recipe for harissa:

[A] popular North African relish that is used to season olives, can be thinned with olive oil and lemon juice to flavour couscous, or can be used to brush on meats or poultry for grilling. […] Parisian chef Joel Rubochon prepares a spicy coating for roast lamb, while chef Alain Passard serves a dab of it with his roasted baby pig. In Provence, harissa appears everywhere.

Harissa is made from cayenne chillis, salt, fresh garlic and olive oil. Other spices can be added as well. I made a note to myself that we had to try it. And forgot… Then I saw it mentioned again on a couple of blogs (Kitchen Chick, Cook (almost) Anything, Cook Sister!, ) and once again reminded myself that we had to try it! And forgot…

Yesterday, we were buying couscous in one of the Halal stores not far from us. There on a shelf next to the bags of couscous were various sizes and brands of cans of harissa shouting at me that we really did have to try it.

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harissa But not canned harissa for us! We’d make it ourselves. (When I say “we”, of course, I mean “T”. :lalala:)

Why oh why didn’t someone remind me about harissa more often?!! It is the best thing since sliced bread.

It was terrific as a garnish for pasta with broccoli, caramelized onions and red peppers in a simple cream sauce. On a hamburger: terrific. Slathered on chicken sandwiches; it was terrific. Yes indeed, harissa is terrific.

And we still haven’t even tried it with couscous!! I’m guessing that it will be terrific.

Here is our version of harissa:

very loosely based on a recipe in At Home in Provence by Patricia Wells

revised January 2010

  • 20-25 whole dried cayenne chillies*
  • boiling water
  • 1½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 3 tsp coriander seed, ground*
  • 2 tsp seasalt
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • good shot olive oil (3-4 Tbsp??)


  1. edit January 2010: If you like your harissa to be smooth, grind the chillies finely, using a spice grinder. Put chillies into a small bowl or pot. Pour just enough boiling water to cover and leave to soak for a few hours. Place another small bowl over the chillies to keep them under the water.
  2. Put cumin and caraway seeds into a cast iron pan and dry toast them just until they start to smoke slightly. You’ll smell them….
  3. Add the coriander powder to the hot pan and stir.
  4. Pour the spices into a coffee spice grinder and grind til powdered finely.
  5. Puree salt and chillies (seeds and all) in a food processor. Or use your pestle and mortar for a coarser grind. Add garlic and puree some more.
  6. Add olive oil and puree a little more.
  7. Pour into a clean glass jar and store in the refrigerator.

I’m guessing that it will keep for a week or so. But good luck keeping it even that long! It’s so good, it will be all gone in no time.

* We buy pre-ground coriander seed in Indiatown. We used to buy whole seeds and grind them ourselves. But they were often infested with tiny flying insects. The creatures appeared to be only interested in the coriander seed but we didn’t really want to take chances so stopped buying the whole seeds.

* edit January 2010: Before pouring the water over them, grind chillies finely (use a pestle and mortor or a coffee spice grinder. This ensures that the harissa will be smooth.

harissa A note about using a mortar and pestle: For the first batch in the small jar, T used the pestle and mortar. He said it was rather difficult to grind up the chillies.

For the second batch in the round jar, he used our mini food processor and boiled the chillies for a few minutes to soften them more. It was much easier and the olive oil really emulsified. There was a little difference in flavour though. The harissa made with chillies simply soaked in just-boiled water has a fresher taste. (click on image for larger view and more photos)

Next time – because there will be a next time (we’re not likely to forget about harissa again) – we’ll start soaking the chillies in the morning and make the harissa in the early evening. Or maybe we will just grind our whole dried cayennes and use powdered cayenne in the same way that Wells does…

Heh. That next time may come even sooner than I thought! We just decided to marinate some chicken in harissa for barbecuing tonight. We’ll serve it with couscous flavoured with preserved lemon. Naturally, we’ll add a little dab of harissa to the couscous as well….

weekend herb blogging - © kalyns kitchen It’s a bit of a stretch to use this post as one for Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) because there aren’t strictly any herbs used. But happily, Kalyn, who is the creator of WHB, has allowed a very broad interpretation of “herbs”.

Entries can be recipes and/or informative posts featuring any herb, plant, vegetable, or flower

This week, WHB is on the road again and is hosted by Rinku (Cooking in Westchester) – take a look through Rinku’s archives; there are some wonderful looking recipes!

Weekend Herb Blogging #83: Garlic (Allium sativum)

With a sunny garden, garlic is easy to grow. It will even grow in partial shade… but be forewarned the resulting bulbs are tiny. Pungent, crisp like the best apples and wonderfully hot though. In late fall or early spring, plant garlic cloves, pointy side up in any good garden soil. For best results, get the cloves from a reputable garden center. If this is not possible, you can simply plant store-bought garlic cloves. A word of caution: you cannot be assured of getting garlic – sometimes vegetable stores treat bulbs with an anti-rooting substance.

When the garlic flowers appear – usually in mid to late July, here in Toronto – cut them to encourage root growth. These flowers are called scapes and are absolutely fantastic stir-fried. (Read more about scapes.) Harvest the bulbs when the leaves turn brown and die down – early to mid August, here in Toronto. Don’t worry if you miss harvesting a bulb or two. Garlic will come up the next year in those spots. You can gently divide the plants in the spring when the soil gets warm.

Two books on herbs in our shelves have good advice on growing garlic. Patrick Lima wrote the following in The Harrowsmith Illustrated Guide to Herbs:

[T]urn a 6 inch dressing of very old cow manure and a dusting of bone meal into the garlic bed, which is in full sun, rake the grownd to a fine tilth, and push the largest cloves saved from that season’s crop several inches deep into the loose earth. […] Very soon, thin blades of garlci grass emerge and continue to grow into fall, until checked by severe cold. One garlic grower […] suggests mulching the garlic beds with straw [after the first freeze] to prevent repeated freezes and thaws from heaving the bulbs.

Turid Forsyth and Merilyn Simonds Mohr wrote in The Harrowsmith Salad Garden:

Plant cloves obtained from gardening friends or seed houses, not from the grocery store: the imported garlic may not be appropriate for your growing conditions.[…] [I]t is easier to start the bulbs in the fall. Prepare a bed of well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Garlic likes full sun. By mid November or before the ground freezes, sink individual cloves, point up, 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart[…]

Read more about garlic:

If you wish to participate in WHB#83, send your link to rinkub AT aol DOT com by mid afternoon GMT on Sunday 20 May, 2007. To learn more about WHB and complete details on how to participate, please go to:


WHB roundups:

This entry was posted in crossblogging, food & drink, main course, posts with recipes, spicy, WHB on by .

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7 responses to “Harissa (WHB#83: garlic)

  1. MrsBrown

    I’ve only ever had harissa on couscous. We went to a barbecue a few years ago where the hostess prepared a roasted vegetable/couscous salad with harissa. It was so delicious. Sadly, MrBrown doesn’t like it as well as I do so I haven’t made it in a while. It’s unclear to me if it’s the couscous or if it’s the taste he doesn’t like. Perhaps I’ll make harissa chicken.

  2. ejm Post author

    I urge you not to wait as long as I did to try it, Kalyn. It’s really delicious.

    Perhaps it was one of the spices that MrBrown doesn’t care for, MrsBrown. You could try omitting one of them? Or use less of one or the other? Coriander seed is a spice that people seem to love or hate. Caraway is the same. Cumin too??

    I must say that I’m really looking forward to tonight’s harissa chicken (it’s smoking in the barbecue now)

  3. bing

    Cumin too. I used to hate the taste of cumin. (Now I love it.)

    I didn’t realize some people have issues with coriander seeds; I thought it was just the leaves. (I can take or leave(!) the leaves; I used to loathe them … where “loathe” is stronger than “hate” by a factor of 10.)

  4. Catherine

    I saw the Provence Patricia Wells book at bargain price at Reader’s Choice in Orangeville, but I was fixated on the Alan Davidson I saw as well and got it instead. If you’re ever in Orangeville, have a gander over there – good finds.

    Your fun with harissa as all-purpose condiment reminds me of one my favourite, similar (albeit store-bought) condiments: “Rooster” brand Sriracha chili sauce… can be found at Vietnamese restaurants and groceries. Hot and garlicky-sweet!

  5. ejm Post author

    If you see the Patricia Wells “At Home in Provence” again, Catherine, it’s well worth getting. We have made several notes of which recipes we had to try and haven’t even begun to reach the end. There are lovely vignettes at the top of several of the recipes as well.

    I’m sure I’ve seen that Rooster brand bottle of red sauce (don’t know if it’s the same Sriracha chili sauce) but haven’t bought it. I’m guessing the difference is that harissa is not sweet.

    The amazing thing about the harissa is that it isn’t that killer hot either. We made a small jar (about 10cm tall and 5cm in diameter) the other night using about 12 whole dried cayenne peppers and the flavour was buttery with a kick but not burning hot. I was really amazed at the buttery taste – what with there being zero butter in harissa.


    Yes, do try it, Rinku. I think it would be right up your alley.


    I still have a problem when there is too much coriander seed, bing. (And turmeric. I am more tolerant of turmeric than I was but find it is quite bitter tasting. The spice I have most difficulty with though, is fenugreek.)


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