Sun-Dried Tomato Harissa (Tunisian Chili Sauce)

>> Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sun-Dried Tomato Harissa (Tunisian Chili Sauce)

Harissa is a hot pepper sauce from Tunisia, the northern-most country in North Africa with both a lovely Mediterranean coastline and the tip of the Sahara desert. This pepper paste can contain many different ingredients, but the base is a mixture of mild and spicy peppers with oil, caraway, cumin, coriander, and garlic.

Map of Tunisia in Africa
Map of Northern Africa - Tunisia is colored orange

Tunisia has been a crossroads of many cultures, the Saharan Berbers, the ancient Romans, the Middle Eastern Muslims. The food most resembles other North African and Arabian dishes, with lots of goat and lamb, spicy tomato sauces, almonds, lentils, dates, and olives. If you love couscous, thank the Tunisians - it might be called their national dish.

Saharan oasis in Tunisia
Saharan oasis in Tunisia

The city of Sousse, eastern Tunisia
The city of Sousse, eastern Tunisia

Tunisian Beach
Tunisian Beach

Tunisia is definitely on our list of places to visit in our lifetime, for sure.

Now let me tell you about harissa! A small jar of harissa in your refrigerator is great for dressing up steamed vegetables or sandwiches, dropping into a stew or a stir-fry, spreading warm on toasted bread or pita, or adding to a meat marinade. Oh yeah, it's also tasty stirred into yogurt as a dip for fresh veggies. We included Middle Eastern ingredients of sun-dried tomatoes and mint, which adds a fresh, tangy dimension. 

We bet that harissa may make you cheat on sriracha sauce, but we don't blame you if you do.


1 1/2 oz cayenne or arbol peppers
4 oz pasilla or ancho peppers
4 oz sun-dried tomatoes
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for storing
1 tbsp lemon juice


Remove the stems from the peppers and shake out the seeds. Place them in a bowl with the tomatoes, and cover with boiling water. Soak for 15 minutes. Drain, retaining the water.

In a food processor combine chili peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Blend, stirring frequently, and add a little of the water if the paste becomes too stiff. When well combined, add the remaining spices and blend to form a smooth paste.

Place in an airtight container and cover it with a layer of olive oil to keep it fresh. It will keep about 1 month in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 cup.


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