Versatile harissa is a simple way of adding heat.
Versatile harissa is a simple way of adding heat. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Harissa, basically a chilli paste with ground spices, is an essential condiment in my father's birthplace of Tunisia and across north Africa. It transforms fish, chicken and meat; it's also great simply smeared on toasted sourdough or in sandwiches. This recipe makes a fresher style of harissa, rather than the fiery commercial pastes you often find. You can use it more liberally and the softer, warmer tones won't overpower more delicate flavours.


1 bulb garlic

1 large red capsicum

5 large red chillies

55ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra

3 tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp caraway seeds

100ml tomato passata

1 tbsp tomato paste

4 tsp salt flakes

2 tsp castor sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan-forced or 180C conventional.

2. Place the whole garlic bulb, capsicum and chillies in a baking dish and coat with oil. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the chillies and place in a bowl, cover with cling wrap and let stand for 10 minutes. Continue roasting the garlic and capsicum for a further 10 minutes.

3. Place the capsicum in a bowl, cover with cling wrap and stand for 10 minutes. Peel chillies and capsicum, scraping out seeds.

4. Toast the cumin and caraway seeds in a frying pan over high heat for one minute while shaking the pan. Grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle.

5. Cut the top off the garlic bulb and squeeze the pulp into a food processor with the capsicum, chillies, cumin, caraway, tomato passata, tomato paste, salt, sugar and 55 millilitres of olive oil and process until smooth.

Store, covered, in the fridge for up to five days.