Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste, originating from Tunisia. The paste is a combination of roasted red peppers, spices, herbs and olive oil. The result is an incredibly flavorful paste that can be used as a marinade, condiment or sauce. It's slightly sweet, with just the right amount of heat, a little smoky and a little tangy!
Harissa is so versatile and can be paired with chicken, beef, fish, vegetables and so much more! There's nothing better than adding the flavor of harissa to a creamy sauce, like in this Harissa Tahini Sauce recipe. Or using it to marinade shrimp in this Harissa Shrimp Bowl!
What is harissa paste? 🌶
Harissa paste is a combination of chili peppers, garlic, spices and olive oil. To make harissa paste, dried chiles are rehydrated, then ground together with garlic and spices.
The chiles and spices are then blended with olive oil to form a paste. The most common spices found in harissa paste are cumin, caraway and coriander.
Seasoning vs paste vs sauce
Harissa is most commonly found in a paste or sauce form, but also can be found as a powdered spice blend. The seasoning mix is made with ground hot peppers, cayenne pepper, paprika, caraway seeds, coriander and cumin.
It has the same flavor profile as the paste or sauce, but in a dry seasoning blend. The seasoning is great to use in a dry rub on chicken wings or steak. Whereas the paste is perfect for making a marinade for things like pork chops or chicken breasts.
Harissa sauce is simply a variation of harissa paste where more olive oil has been added to form a thinner consistency than the paste.
Is Sriracha similar to harissa?
While harissa has been called "Middle Eastern Sriracha", there are both similarities and differences between Sriracha and harissa. They're similar in that they're both made with spicy peppers and garlic. But they're different in that sriracha also includes sugar and vinegar, whereas harissa includes olive oil and spices.
In a pinch, sriracha can be substituted for harissa, but just know that the flavor profile will be different.
10 ways to use harissa
Harissa can be used in any way that you'd use a hot sauce or chili paste. It's extremely versatile, so you can add it to your fridge and try it so many different ways to mix up your weekly menu!
- As a marinade - I love to marinade everything from chicken, to shrimp, to tofu in harissa paste. Because it already includes olive oil, peppers and spices, you can marinate a ton of different things directly in harissa paste with no additional ingredients needed.
- As a dipping sauce - you can dip everything from pita bread to veggies directly in the harissa paste. If you want to calm down the heat from the harissa, make this Harissa Tahini Sauce. It's perfect as a dip for veggies or crackers!
- As a glaze - mix it with honey to make a delicious glaze for these Harissa Honey Chicken Bowls.
- As a flavor enhancer for eggs - mix in a tablespoon of harissa to whisked eggs for a seriously delicious scramble!
- As a veggie seasoning - toss veggies in olive oil, then powdered harissa seasoning and roast them in the oven, or toss them on the grill. Harissa adds a ton of flavor and spice to roasted veggies.
- To flavor soups and stews - toss anywhere from 1-4 tablespoons of harissa paste into your favorite soup or stew to give it a burst of flavor and spice.
- As a sandwich spread - add a smear of harissa paste or sauce to your next sandwich. I promise, you're going to love using this sauce as a sandwich condiment!
- Mix it into couscous or quinoa - in traditional North African cuisine, you'll find it mixed into couscous with veggies like tomatoes and cucumber. You can also mix the harissa paste into cooked quinoa to use as the base of a bowl. This is one of my favorite uses for harissa!
- Add it to avocado toast - a light layer of harissa paste on top of avocado toast with a drizzle of lemon juice is so delicious! This is one of my go-to breakfast options.
- Add it to tomato sauces - stir 1-2 tablespoons into everything from marinara sauce to beef ragu for an extra burst of flavor in the sauce.
- Add it to potato or pasta salad - kick up your summer BBQ side dishes by adding harissa to potato or pasta salad. I love this recipe for Lemony Harissa Potato Salad from The Iron You.
Homemade vs. store bought
If you're looking to save yourself some time, there are a lot of really delicious store bought options for harissa paste and sauce. Even Trader Joe's has their own version now!
But if you'd like to spend a little more time and make your own Harissa Paste at home, The Mediterranean Dish has a great homemade Harissa recipe that takes about 40 minutes to make. Minimalist Baker also has a DIY Harissa Paste that takes 30 minutes to make and is slightly different than The Mediterranean Dish's version.
The benefit to making it at home is that you can make it as spicy or mild as you'd like, you can also adjust the spices to your taste. The benefit to buying it at the store is the time that it will save you in the kitchen!
Which brand is the best?
If you're purchasing harissa online, or at the grocery store, you'll see a variety of options. First, you have to decide if you want harissa paste, sauce or powder. Next, you have to figure out what's available based on where you're shopping.
If you're at Trader Joe's, they only sell harissa paste. At my local grocery store, they only sell Mina Harissa Sauce.
When shopping online, you have a lot more options. I ordered the two highest rated brands of Harissa Sauce on Amazon, Mina and Pur, then did my own taste test at home, putting them up against Trader Joe's harissa paste.
Mina won in the flavor department for me. The first ingredient in Mina's spicy harissa is chili peppers. This means that peppers are the main ingredient in the sauce, which is what you're looking for in a good harissa sauce.
The PUR sauce was still delicious, but the first ingredient in their sauce is olive oil. This means it's less spicy and more oily that the Mina sauce. If you're shopping online, use the following guide to purchase your harissa, based on the spice level and consistency you're looking for.
- Looking for a spicy sauce? Go with Mina spicy harissa sauce.
- And for another spicy sauce option, try the PUR spicy harissa sauce.
- Looking for a mild sauce? Go with Mina mild harissa sauce.
- And for a spicy paste, go with Trader Joe's harissa paste.
- Looking for a spicy powder? Go with Frontier or McCormick harissa seasoning.
I definitely haven't tried every harissa available on the market, so if you see another brand at your local grocery store, grab it and try it!
Harissa powder or seasoning mix will be found in the grocery store on the spice aisle. Harissa paste or sauce will usually be found on the condiment aisle near the BBQ sauce and ketchup.
Easy recipes to make with harissa
- Harissa Shrimp Bowls
- Harissa Chicken Bowls
- Charred Cauliflower Bowls with Harissa Tahini Sauce
- Harissa Broccoli Quinoa Bowls
- Harissa Chicken Meatballs from Skinnytaste
- Vegan Harissa Tofu from Rabbit & Wolves
- Braised Harissa Eggplant with Chickpeas from The First Mess
- Harissa Tofu Flatbreads from Rebel Recipes
- Spicy Harissa Bean Soup from Rachael Hartley