Make your own damn harissa


A friend who is a pilot was flying out the next day and wanted some of the delicious harissa sauce made by a local deli, named fittingly enough, "El Harissa." Problem was it was late Sunday night, and Ben wanted to pick it up before the store opened the next morning. Another friend had a personal phone number and gave it to Ben, who called the deli owner and left a hopeful message.

I surreptitiously texted Ben the following: "Stop bothering me and my family. Make your own damn harissa." Ben felt awful for about two seconds until he saw it was from me.

The story has a happy ending. Ben did make a successful contact and picked up a good quantity of El Harissa's namesake product. Harissa is said to be Tunisia's national condiment, a spicy roasted red pepper concoction that is an excellent complement to just about anything. I served some recently with Moroccan grilled chicken, roasted fall vegetables, and couscous. Uses are limited only by imagination - and availability.

If you can't find a good source, and don't "know a guy who knows a guy" as Ben does, then here's a recipe to make your own damn harissa.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi


1 red pepper

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp caraway seeds

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

1 small red onion, coarsely chopped (scant 2/3 cup / 90 g in total)

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

3 hot red chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 1/2 tsp tomato paste

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt


1. Place the pepper under a very hot broiler, turning occasionally for about 25 minutes, until blackened on the outside and completely soft. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool. Peel the pepper and discard its skin and seeds.

2. Place a dry frying pan over low heat and lightly toast the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds for 2 minutes. Remove them to a mortar and use a pestle to grind to a powder.

3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and fry the onion, garlic, and chiles for 10 to 12 minutes, until a dark smoky color and almost caramelized.

4. Use a blender or a food processor to blitz together all of the paste ingredients until smooth, adding a little more oil if needed. Store in a sterilized jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or even longer.

Now that I've given you this recipe so that you can make your own, please stop bothering me and my family.


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.

Published: Mon, Oct 10, 2016