I’m ridiculously sensitive to chillies, I’m sure that if I could get past how terrible it makes me feel that the heat and hum of chillies would be something I would crave in my food. And just like my unusual sensitivity to alcohol I always feel like I’m missing out on the party and I am the perpetual designated driver. The recipe for homemade harissa below is my attempt to join the party as best I can.

If unlike me you can handle the heat include the chilli. The hottest part of the chilli is the membrane that holds the seeds at the very top as well as the white membrane that looks like veins running down the body of the pepper. Depending on the level of heat you can tolerate using the part of the chilli as follows:

From coolest to hottest:

  1. No heat whatsoever (the Ilana version): no chilli
  2. Add more than the called for ¼ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper, you can go up to 1 teaspoon without affecting the texture of the harissa.
  3. Add to the food processor a cayenne chilli, seeds, and membranes removed, flesh only and then only the flesh from the bottom half of the chilli – the further you climb towards the stem end of the chilli the hotter it gets.
  4. Add to food processor a cayenne chilli, flesh from the whole chilli
  5. Add to food processor a cayenne chilli, flesh, and seeds – no membrane
  6. Add to food processor a cayenne chilli, toss the whole thing in, flesh, seeds, and membrane


  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 plum tomato
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 60ml (¼ cup) olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (see note above)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Over an open flame roast pepper on all sides until the skin has turned totally black, place blackened pepper into a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the pepper steam for 10 minutes this will make it easier to peel off the skin. Rub all the blackened skin from the pepper rinse to remove any black bits that remain. Cut the pepper open and remove the stem and seeds. Peel the tomato and cut into quarters. Place the pepper and tomato in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.
  2. In a dry skillet toast the caraway, coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat shaking often, until very aromatic 2-3 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a plate to cool. Once cooled finely grind the seeds either in a pestle and mortar or in a spice grinder to a fine powder.
  3. Add the ground seeds, along with the olive oil, sweet and smoked paprika, minced garlic, cayenne (or any amount of chili you choose to use) as well as salt to the food processor along with the pepper and tomato and process until smooth.
  4. If not using immediately, decant the harissa into an airtight container or jar, level the top of the sauce, and cover with a thin film of olive oil, seal tightly. Just before using, mix the olive oil into the paste. Harissa will keep for a week in the fridge.