Harissa paste & harissa butter

Harissa paste & harissa butter

Dried chillies

There was a time in my life when I could pick up a chilli, bite into it and not have to worry about the consequences. Yes it smacked my mouth with its heat, but stomach cramps never hit me several hours later.

Gone are the days.

Somehow, with age and a very slight onset of intolerance to such fiery heat, I find myself lowering the heat factor a tad when cooking requires a chilli or two.

Harissa ingredients

I still remember the days when chillies, freshly picked from my dad’s garden, were a staple condiment on the dinner table. My very early teens, to be precise. In between mouthfuls of whatever the main dish may have been, you’d crunch into the chilli, dip the tip into salt and bite it again. I’m not sure if it’s a Croatian thing, but it sure was a family thing.

So here I am making harissa, that fiery Tunisian paste that packs a real punch. Yes it’s easy to buy a jar of it, but it doesn’t require that much more work to make it yourself.

Seeing my stomach is a little more precious of late, I’ve reduced the quantity of chillies that usually go into it. It’s still hot, mind you, just not to the point of making you gag for air.

Harissa recipe

The combination of dried arbol chillies, several tiny little scuds – or chiltepins that a friend sent to me from Tucson, Arizona – and aromatic spices makes for a really tasty condiment.

What can you serve harissa with? Well, just about anything. Fish, meats, on vegetables – anywhere you may want a bit of heat.

Recipes where I’ve used harissa paste / butter –

Harissa paste recipe


Print Recipe
Harissa paste & harissa butter
This versatile North African spice paste will enliven many of your dishes. Why not give it a go?
Harissa paste and harissa butter recipe
Harissa paste
Harissa Butter
Harissa paste
Harissa Butter
Harissa paste and harissa butter recipe
Harissa paste
  1. Char the capsicum over a flame or under a grill until the skin is blackened all over. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic and allow to sit for 10 minutes, or so. Rub the blackened skin from the capsicum and remove the stem, seeds and inner membranes. Avoid washing the capsicum under running water as this will wash away the beautiful juices. Set aside.
  2. Cut the stems off the arbol chillies and discard them. Shake out the seeds and get rid of those, but leave them in if you like your heat. Pour boiling water over the arbol chillies and chiltepins, set aside for 20 minutes to soften.
  3. Place the cumin and caraway seeds and crumbled cinnamon into a small pan over medium heat. Toast until aromatic. Do not burn! Grind the toasted spices and smoked paprika flakes in a mortar, or if you have a spice grinder, blitz to a powder.
  4. Place the capsicum, drained chillies, ground spices and remaining harissa ingredients into a jug. Using a stick blender, blend to a paste. Check for seasoning.
  5. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 weeks, or freeze any excess.
Harissa butter
  1. Using an electric blender, mix the butter until smooth. Add the ground fennel and harissa and continue blending until combined.
    harissa butter
  2. Scoop the harissa butter onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a 4 cm log, and roll tightly into the plastic. Twist the ends to tighten even more.
  3. Refrigerate overnight before using, so the flavours can develop. Alternatively, freeze the butter for up to 3 months. You can easily cut chunks off it while it's frozen, keeping the excess frozen.
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  • I have been meaning to make some harissa for years. I am obviously the perfect procrastinator. I must give this a try soon – so many of my Moroccan recipes call for it.

    P.S. – I am glad you found a good use for some of those chiltepins!

    • Yes, I think the chiltepins will keep me going for a long time, David!

  • Barry Ozmo

    looks a good recipe.as a chilli grower i choose to remove the seeds as well in use.the flavour is more important than the heat.i had a good crop of jalapeno this year.chilli jelly is another good idea for use.

  • Man up! You disappoint me 🙂 Can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen! Ha ha! The harissa paste I make is quite similar though I don’t use chiltepins. I love the idea of making butter with it! I have a theory that if you have Harissa on hand then you can always scratch up an amazing dinner, no matter what you have (ever tried harissa chickpea potato curry? SO GOOD!). 🙂

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  • AmandaChewTown

    Making the butter from the paste is genius. I feat that if I made it I would find excuses to put it on everything till I just start eating the butter straight. Ours is definitely a high heat harissa household but I’ve yet to try to make it.

  • Ahhh old age. It hits us all 😉

  • Mila Furman

    This is so gorgeous! I am looking for a good harissa recipe for a vegan dish I am recreating and I just saw this!!! So gorgeous John! Although I have not heard of chilepins is that one of those aussie terms 🙂 Thanks for the recipe John.

    • Hi Mila, Chiltepins aren’t a requirement. I only added them because I had them in my spice cupboard so just use regular dried red chillies.

  • Sara (Belly Rumbles)

    Such a great idea, harissa would be prefect in a butter. I can think of a million ways to use it already.

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