Everything You Need to Know About Tunisian Harissa (Chili Paste)

Tunisian Harissa

A visit to Tunisia is not complete until you have tasted Tunisian harissa! This popular Tunisian condiment is sometimes described as the national condiment of Tunisia. Tunisian harissa is becoming increasingly popular worldwide and many spicy food lovers are calling it the “new Sriracha“.

On December 1, 2022, Tunisian harissa was officially inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.

Find out what the craze is all about! In this article, we put together a brief guide on everything you need to know about Harissa.

What is Harissa?

Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste that is a popular condiment used in Tunisian cuisine. The main ingredients in harissa are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, other dried peppers, garlic, coriander seed, and spices. Vegetable oil or olive oil is used for preservation. A blend of cayenne may be used to prepare extra-spicy harissa. Tunisian harissa is often made from the chilis grown around the Nabeul and Gabes regions of Tunisia.

Tunisian Harissa
Tunisian Harissa

How to Use Tunisian Harissa

In Tunisia, harissa is used to add an extra kick to just about anything. It is most commonly used to add an aromatic spice to meat (goat, lamb, chicken, and fish) stew with vegetables, and for flavouring couscous. In restaurants or at home, harissa is often served on a side dish with some olive oil to be used as a dipping sauce for bread. Harissa is also a popular ingredient added in sandwiches and salads.

The Harissa Industry

Tunisia is the biggest exporter of pre-made or prepared harissa. In 2006, Tunisia produced 22,000 tonnes of harissa using about 40,000 tonnes of chili peppers!

Within Tunisia, pre-made harissa can be easily purchased in supermarkets or small shops. Pre-made harissa can be bought in canned forms or as paste in a tube. Alternatively, harissa can be purchased as grounded chili powder in the souk (market).

Recipe for Tunisian Harissa – Making Your Own Harissa!

You will find that each Tunisian family has their own recipe for making homemade harissa. Some families prefer extra spicy harissa while others prefer a milder one. Homemade harissa often has a smoky flavour added which tastes different than the harissa served in Tunisian restaurants. This recipe for Tunisian harissa is a good starting point for making your own homemade harissa. Once you have made your own harissa a few times, you can begin experimenting with the quantities to create your desired flavour.

Preparation time is 10 minutes and you would need the following ingredients:

  • 10-12 dried red chili peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin

Preparation:

Soak the dried chilies in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain. Remove stems and seeds. In a food processor, combine chili peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Blend. Add remaining spices and blend to form a smooth paste. Store in an airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top to keep fresh. And voila, you just made your own homemade harissa!

About the author

Joshua Mok has been living in Tunisia since 2016. He has traveled extensively throughout the country, and has firsthand experience with the language, people, and culture of North Africa. It is his passion to introduce to others some of the best destinations in North Africa that he has experienced.

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