Make spicy harissa paste quickly and easily from store-bought harissa powder with this simple (and adjustable) recipe.
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Making harissa paste from powder
Making harissa from scratch is best done in a large batch, with lots of chili peppers. While this will give the most authentic result, it’s not always practical.
The good news is you can make a good harissa paste from a quality harissa spice mix powder.
But there are lots of different recommendations out there for how to mix it up. So I decided to give them all a go, and see how they compared.
Different approaches to mixing harissa paste from powder
The most common recommendations I found were:
- equal parts powder and oil
- equal parts powder and water
- equal parts powder, water and oil
So I tested each of these with a commercial harissa powder. And each mixture gave quite different results.
For the first test I mixed a tablespoon of harissa powder with the same volume of water, oil or both.
The main things I was interested in were the consistency and the texture of the different “pastes”. I really want both to be right (or as close as possible).
And I say “paste” because as you can see from the photo above, the different mixes had very different consistencies.
Consistency of different harissa powder mixtures (equal parts mixes)
The mixtures with just oil and just water had completely different consistencies.
The powder and oil mixture was very liquid. It was essentially pourable, much like like a runny sauce.
The water mixture on the other hand was a thick paste that had to be tapped off the spoon.
The difference was so stark that I checked the packet of harissa powder to make sure it had no thickeners or fillers like rice flour or cornstarch. But it was just ground spices.
Presumably the thickening effect with the water mix occurs because the ground dried chili peppers in particular are rapidly absorbing water as they rehydrate. The oil mixture only thickened slightly even after an hour.
The mixture with both oil and water was between the other two, although much closer in consistency to the runny oil mixture.
Best mixture for consistency
This will obviously depend on how you like your harissa. I like mine as a fairly thick paste, so at this point, my preference was for the water mixture.
Texture of different mixtures
The textures were not as starkly different as the consistency, but there was still a meaningful difference.
The mixes with just oil and just water felt quite grainy on the tongue. The mixture with both liquids however was significantly less grainy.
I’m guessing this is because some of the spices are water soluble, and some are fat soluble. When there’s just one of the liquids, some of the spices are just suspended in the paste. But with both liquids, much more of the spice powder dissolves in the mixture, reducing the graininess.
Best mixture for texture
As you’ve no doubt guessed, my preference is for the powder, oil and water mixture.
And I don’t think this one’s as much about personal preference as the consistency. The other two mixtures really feel like they were made from harissa powder.
Which equal parts mixture is best?
Based on my testing to this point, I don’t love any of the mixtures. None of them are ideal:
- Equal parts harissa powder and oil is far too runny, and too powdery.
- Equal parts powder and water has a good consistency, but is again too powdery.
- Equal parts powder, oil and water has the best texture, but it’s too runny.
But this test showed me the way to get the best texture. You need both oil and water with your harissa powder.
Now we just need to get the consistency right.
Adjusting the consistency of your harissa paste
Once I’d found the best mixture, I had a play with the ratios. Working in steps, I mixed:
- Four parts harissa powder with one part oil and one part water (4:1:1).
- Four parts powder with two parts oil and two parts water (2:1:1).
- And four parts powder with three parts oil and three parts water (4:3:3).
The 4:1:1 mixture was very thick. So much so that it was a little cumbersome to work with.
The 2:1:1 mix formed a thick wet paste, much like a good scratch-made harissa. It was easy to work with and clung to the spoon.
And the 4:3:3 mixture was quite runny. It was the only one in this test that would drip off the end of the spoon.
Getting the best consistency for your harissa paste
Like everything, “the best” is meaningless without two qualifiers – at what, and for who?
For me, the best consistency is the 2:1:1 mixture. I like harissa as a slightly wet and quite thick paste.
But the best consistency for you will depend on your preference (and maybe how you plan on using it). If you’re not sure, start with a 4:1:1 mixture, and keep adding small amounts of oil and water until you’re happy with the results.
And if it gets a little too runny, just throw in a little more powder.
Making your harissa paste even better
If you want to make your instant harissa paste even tastier, there are two additional steps you can take:
- Heat your olive oil gently in the microwave beforehand, and use very hot water too. This livens up the dried spices beautifully.
- Make your harissa paste in advance, even just 30 minutes before serving. The spices will rehydrate more and the flavours will marry together even better with a little time. If you can leave it overnight the difference is dramatic.
How to make harissa paste from powder
It’s easy to make a good harissa paste from a pre-made spice mix:
- Place two teaspoons of the harissa powder in a small bowl.
- Add half a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and half a teaspoon of water and mix thoroughly.
- If the paste is too thick for your liking, add another half teaspoon each of olive oil and water and mix well.
- Keep adding small amounts of oil and water until your paste is the consistency you want.
And that’s it. If you can let it sit, even for a few hours, it’ll be even better.
Harissa Spices Blends (powders)
I only included the three products below in my review, but there are plenty of good harissa spice blends available on Amazon.
Quick & Easy Harissa Paste from Powder
- 2 tsp Harissa powder
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- 1 tsp water (divided)
- Place harissa powder in a small bowl.
- Add olive oil and water and mix thoroughly.
- For a thinner paste, add small amounts of olive oil and water until you achieve your desired consistency.
- For a thicker paste, start with half a teaspoon of olive oil and half a teaspoon of water.
- For a more aromatic paste, heat the olive oil carefully in the microwave (5 seconds at a time, testing temperature each time) before adding to the powder. Do the same with the water (separately).
- If you have time, prepare your harissa paste in advance. The flavours will intensify the longer the paste is made up. Even 30 minutes will make a difference.
- This recipe works on a ratio of 2 parts harissa powder to one part olive oil and one part water. For a larger batch, simply use half the volume of powder for oil and water. For example, for 1 cup of powder, use half-a-cup of olive oil and half-a-cup of water.