Harissa Sauce

Harissa is a traditional North African table condiment that is great not only as a sauce on grilled meat, but also as a marinade for chicken, beef, or lamb. This recipe is very similar to a sauce I used to make at Vesta years ago. We used a spicier chile, more chipotles, and more salt in that version. But many Project Angel Heart clients need to limit their salt intake, so in this recipe, I use less salt and up the amounts of vinegar, lemon juice, and dried spices to help develop flavor. 

Harissa Sauce
Yields 4 cups

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 (30-ounce) can roasted red bell peppers, drained
  • 4 to 6 dried pasilla or guajillo chiles, stemmed
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 2 teaspoons cumin, ground
  • 2 teaspoons paprika, ground
  • 2 teaspoons coriander, ground
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil 

Place a 3-quart stockpot on the stove over medium-high heat. Once warm, add the canola oil, then add the onions and garlic cloves. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until they soften and start to get a little color.

Add the bell peppers, dried chiles, dried apricots, cumin, paprika, and coriander. Stir well to incorporate, then add enough water to just cover everything (the dried chiles will float, so be careful not to add too much water trying to cover them).

Bring the sauce to a slow simmer and let cook over low heat for 20-30 minutes. Once the dried chiles and apricots are soft, remove the pot from heat and stir in the vinegar, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and sesame oil.

Working in batches, transfer the sauce to a blender and puree well. When pureeing warm liquid, be sure to only fill the blender pitcher halfway, ensure the lid is secure before turning it on, and start on low power and work your way up to high.

Once pureed, transfer the harissa to a bowl and taste for seasoning. You may want to add more salt, pepper, lemon juice, or sesame oil. Let cool and refrigerate—the sauce will keep well for 7-10 days. 

Chef Brandon FosterBrandon Foster began his life in the kitchen at the Best Western in Frisco, Colorado, almost 18 years ago. His passion for ingredients and drive to learn technique led him down the mountain to Denver, where he worked in two of Denver’s most fondly remembered restaurants, The Fourth Story and Mel’s. He joined the crew at Vesta in 2005 as a line cook and became executive chef in 2010, focusing on getting back to the roots of cooking through charcuterie and seasonal ingredients. Ultimately, Chef Brandon’s career highlights centered on events like Plates for the Peak, Invest in Kids, and James Beard Foundation dinners where he could play a role in helping people in need- a passion that led him to Project Angel Heart in 2016. Outside the kitchen, Chef Brandon enjoys spending time skiing, camping, golfing, and eating with his wife Larissa and their three kids.