How to Make Rose Harissa Paste

Rose harissa is a fragrant red pepper paste with rose water common in Maghrebi cuisine. Cook toasted spices, roasted red pepper, garlic, and chillies into a sweet, fiery, fragrant paste with a subtle floral hum. Its uses are endless!

If you enjoy cooking with Middle Eastern flavours – or own any Yotam Ottolenghi cookbooks – you’ve likely encountered rose harissa paste in an ingredient list. Depending on your location, rose harissa may be tricky to track down. A simple substitute is shop-bought harissa paste with a splash of rose water.

Yet there is something so rewarding about making your own – when you toast your spices, roast your peppers and adjust the spiciness to suit your palate as you go.

And you cook the homemade harissa down into a sweet, fiery paste before you stir in just the right amount of rose water and petals for that subtle floral hint of rose harissa paste.

What is harissa paste?

Harissa is a hot pepper paste used in Maghrebi cuisine – most notably Tunisian cuisine. The main ingredients are red peppers, spices, garlic, olive oil and sometimes rose water or petals. Olive oil preserves the paste and carries the oil-soluble flavours.

Is rose harissa the same as harissa paste?

Yes. Rose harissa paste is the same as harissa paste with added rose water and/or petals. This is a rose harissa paste recipe. But if you prefer your paste without the subtle floral notes, simply omit the rose ingredients to make fragrant harissa paste.

I’ve been making my own harissa paste for years, trying out different methods in the process.

Some quick and easy recipes simply blitz the ingredients together to form a raw paste. Other recipes include a quick cook in the pan. Sometimes recipes call for a tomato base instead of red peppers. While each method creates a delicious sauce, this rose harissa paste recipe is my favourite.

It makes the most fragrant, almost caramelised, red pepper harissa out there.

I first came across this method of making rose harissa paste in Casablanca: My Moroccan Food by Nargisse Benkabbou. She distinguishes between plain, fragrant and rose harissa. Over time, her guidelines evolved into my ultimate rose harissa paste recipe.

It has parts of my favourite harissa paste recipes – like Yotam Ottolenghi’s homemade rose harissa paste. It is fragrant, fiery and floral. And I always have some in the fridge for flavour emergencies.

Why make your own harissa paste?

When you make harissa paste at home, you can adapt the flavours to suit your palate.

Love the spicy stuff as I do? Layer your chillies by adding fresh, dried and even fermented chillies to the paste.

Don’t cope too well with chilli heat? Use a mild dose of Kashmiri powder instead or even omit in favour of paprika. I know, I know. Is it even harissa if it’s not spicy? Probably not. But you do you!

Shop-bought harissa paste can contain more tomato than red pepper. While those harissa pastes are still deliciously fragrant, I adore the sweet flavour of red peppers in contrast to the fiery heat of the chilli peppers.

How to make harissa paste

Make your own harissa paste in four basic steps:

  1. Prepare your red peppers (or buy jarred roasted peppers) and chilli peppers.
  2. Flavour it with toasted spices and (optional) rose water.
  3. Blend everything into a smooth sauce.
  4. Cook the sauce slowly to reduce it into harissa paste.

Prepare the peppers

Remove the veins, seeds and membranes from the red peppers and roast in a hot oven. Once they are wrinkled and slightly charred, remove them from the oven and leave until cool enough to handle before peeling the charred skin.

Or you can use jarred roasted red peppers to save time, see how to make rose harissa paste quickly.

Rehydrate your dried chillies – if using them. I love dried ancho chillies for their smoky flavour. But if you are in no mood to rehydrate dried chillies, skip them and stick to fresh red chillies. Or use only dried chillies.

Feel free to experiment here! You can also drastically reduce the spiciness by sticking to a mild chilli powder like Kashmiri.

Flavour your paste with toasted spices, garlic and rose

As soon as you grind spices, they start to lose their flavour. Spices toasted whole in a pan – and ground just before using – are the most fragrant. But if you don’t have a spice grinder, you can still toast pre-ground spices instead.

In the same way, roasting the garlic (with the peppers) makes it sweeter and a bit more mellow. Also, I adore roasted garlic. So since the red peppers are already spending time in the oven – I like to add a whole garlic bulb to roast before adding it to the paste.

It’s not traditional, so feel free to add raw garlic to the food processor instead – stick to around 6 raw, peeled cloves.

The rose water and rose petals are optional. Well, not if you want to make rose harissa. But you can make fragrant harissa paste using this recipe without rose water.

However, I do urge you to try rose harissa paste at least once. The rose adds a subtle floral hum to the fiery paste.

Blend the ingredients together

Blitz the peeled peppers, spices, raw, roasted or rehydrated chilli peppers, roast garlic and lemon juice together in a food processor to form a sauce. You may need to scrape the sides down as you go.

Cook the harissa sauce until it resembles a thick paste

You can use the sauce once blended. The flavours will be fiery and fragrant already. But the magic happens when you cook the sauce down into a paste. There should be no water remaining, and the oil will start to seep out of the paste.

It yields a complex, sweet, fragrant and fiery paste with distinct red pepper notes – approximately 1½ cups worth.

How to make harissa paste with jarred red peppers

As much as I love this method of making harissa paste, it can be overwhelming if you are short on time. There is one shortcut that cuts the time in half.

Use shop-bought jarred roasted peppers!

That means no deveining, no roasting, no peeling. Just drain the peppers, and they are good to go. And you can always keep a jar or two in the pantry for a quick emergency harissa paste.

Toast your garlic cloves and chillies whole with the spices. Then tip everything into a blender and blend until fine before adding the roasted peppers. Continue to reduce the mix to a paste on the stove.

How to store homemade harissa paste

Transfer the paste to a sterilised glass jar and cover it with olive oil. The olive oil helps to preserve the paste.

Whenever you scoop out some harissa, top the remaining harissa up with more olive oil to keep the paste covered. Store the sealed container in the fridge for up to a month.

When there is no more paste left in the jar – just bright red olive oil – use it for a fragrant harissa dressing, or for cooking. Harissa-oil fried eggs, anyone?

You can also freeze the paste in an ice cube tray for quick pops of flavour.

Close-up of homemade harissa paste.

How to use rose harissa

  • Rose harissa makes a delicious marinade for veggies or chicken. Try a sweet maple-harissa-marinade by mixing equal parts rose harissa, maple syrup and olive oil. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.
  • You can spread harissa over flatbreads and grill in the oven for a quick pizza substitute. Mix the harissa paste with tomato paste for a milder version. Enjoy warm with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and flaky salt for a satisfying snack. Or top the flatbreads with cheese and veggies to make a meal of it. Try these quick and easy yoghurt flatbreads.
  • Harissa paste adds depth to soups and stews for quick weeknight dinners, like with this quick-and-easy Moroccan-inspired lentil soup with coriander salsa.
  • Make a quick cheat’s chilli oil by mixing 1 part harissa paste to two parts extra virgin olive oil with salt to taste. Drizzle over soups, stews or salads. 

Let me know if you try this recipe and how you plan to use your rose harissa paste at home!

A bowl of homemade rose harissa paste on a Middle Eastern serving tray.

Homemade Rose Harissa Paste

5 from 12 votes
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Rose harissa is a hot pepper paste used in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. The main ingredients are peppers, spices, garlic, olive oil, and rose petals or rose water.
It is a fiery and fragrant red pepper paste with the subtle floral hum of rose water. It adds depth to any soup, stew or even salad.
The harissa paste keeps for at least a month in the fridge – if you don’t finish it before then. And the recipe produces a large batch – about 1½ cups (roughly 400 grams).
Recipe byAdri
Servings1 jar
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients
 

  • 6–8 garlic cloves*
  • 2.2 pounds red peppers, about 5 large bell peppers
  • 1–4 red chilli peppers*
  • 1–4 dried chillies*
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, and more for storing
  • 2 tablespoons dried rose petals
  • ½ to 2 tablespoons rose water*
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 430 °F. Reduce the heat accordingly if using a fan oven.
  • Take your garlic bulb – or select 6 large cloves if you want it less garlicky – and remove some of the loose skins. But do not unpeel it all the way. Rub with olive oil and wrap it in foil.
  • Cut the red peppers in half. Remove and discard the cores, veins and seeds. Then place the peppers skin-side up on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Add the foil-covered garlic.
  • Leave any small chillies whole for roasting. Cut large chillies in half if you want to scrape out the seeds and membranes for a milder harissa paste – or roast them whole too. Add the chillies to the tray containing the red peppers and garlic.
  • Place the tray in the hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the red pepper skin is wrinkly and charred in places. Remove any small chillies, if using, after 15 minutes of roasting and rotate the tray before returning it to the oven.
  • If you are using dried chillies, add them to a heatproof bowl and completely cover them with boiling water. Leave for 20 minutes to rehydrate. Once rehydrated, drain the soaking water, pull out the stems and remove the seeds of the large chillies. Wear gloves if you are using your hands to remove the seeds! Roughly chop the flesh and set aside until needed.
  • Once roasted, pile the peppers on a plate and cover with an upside-down heatproof mixing bowl, or use cling film. You want them to steam a little while they cool down so that the skins are easier to peel off. Leave aside until cool enough to handle.
  • Place a large pan on medium-high heat and, once hot, toast the spices until fragrant and popping – about 3 minutes. Shake the pan from time to time for even toasting. Tip the toasted spices into a spice grinder and blitz until ground – or use a mortar and pestle.
  • Once the roasted peppers are cool enough to handle, remove their skins. Most of the skin should come off without effort. You can leave the small stubborn pieces. Open the foil parcel – be mindful of steam when hot – and pop out the garlic cloves. They won’t be completely soft, but they will already be sweeter. Pick 6 to 8 large garlic cloves and store the rest in the fridge for quick weeknight flavour boosters. Or – if you are feeling particularly garlicky – use all the cloves.
  • Roughly chop the garlic, peeled peppers and chillies. Add them to a food processor with the rehydrated chillies, spices and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Blitz everything together into a coarse paste, scraping down the sides if needed.
  • Place 5 tablespoons of olive oil in the large pan you used for toasting spices. Add the red pepper mixture from the food processor and place the pan on medium heat. Add the rose petals and half of the rose water. Stir until the paste and oil are combined and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The paste is ready once the mixture is darker and there is no more liquid from the peppers, only the wonderfully flavoured red oil seeping from the paste. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and the remaining rose water. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. Don’t be alarmed, the spiciness will subside a touch once it cools down!
  • Transfer the paste to a sterilised glass jar and cover it with olive oil. The olive oil helps to preserve the paste. Store the sealed container in the fridge for a month. You can also freeze the paste in an ice cube tray for quick pops of flavour.

Notes

  • You can use any sweet red peppers for the harissa base. I add various peppers from the market, but you can use plain red bell peppers only.
  • You can also use jarred roasted peppers (about 20 ounces / 600 grams drained weight) and skip the roasting step. Just toast the garlic cloves and chillies in the pan with the spices.
  • I roast an entire garlic bulb. If the bulb is small, I add all of it to the paste. And, if it is large, I use the remaining roasted garlic flesh in quick weeknight meals. But you can also roast the 6 to 8 cloves on their own.
  • If you don’t have all of the different spices required, use more of those that you do have. You still want 4 tablespoons of mixed spices to 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of fresh red peppers.
  • If you don’t have a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind the spices, substitute with pre-ground spices.
  • I use a mix of fresh and dried chillies. Typically, I add 2 small bird’s eye chillies and 2 medium-hot serenade chillies, as well as 1 rehydrated dried ancho chilli for that smoky complexity – and maybe another dried red chilli when I want a fiery paste. You can adjust the ratio of fresh to dried chillies. However, if you are adding more than 6 hot chillies, things start to get spicy!
  • Rose water is available in a variety of strengths. If you are using a concentrate, like Nielsen Massey, try 2 teaspoons in total. If using a milder version like the Lebanese brand I typically use, you can go up to 2 (or even 3) tablespoons according to your taste. Remember, you can always add more rose water later – even when cooking with the paste.
  • See recipes with rose harissa paste for your next dinner idea!

Why not try more homemade condiments?

If you enjoyed making this rose harissa paste at home, why not check out a few more condiments you can make at home:

10 Comments

    1. Thank you so much, Olive! ❤️ I couldn’t agree more! Cooking down the sauce intensifies the flavour like crazy.

  1. 5 stars
    i love this recipe as i always like to have harrissa in the fridge. I use it for making merguez sausages and sausage rolls, as a coating for roast lamb, in salad dressings and marinades for meats and roasting veg and my favourite is to add it to mayonaise with honey and a little lime juice for an amazing dip for anything ESPECIALLY fresh made skinny fries. Just a kitchen essential. Thank you

    1. I couldn’t agree more! Harissa is absolutely a kitchen essential.

      I’m definitely making your sweet harissa mayo dip, it sounds perfect for just about EVERYTHING!

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