Harissa versus Biber Salçası

I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi in England. I love his books, because they are full of new ideas and combinations. His books are a source of inspiration for me. Too bad I can not watch his culinary travel programs on Canal D in England, but I found them on Youtube :) I made a pot of tea and sat in front of my computer and watched his “culinary trip to Tunisia”. Stunning views and countless varieties of fish dishes. Yotam Ottolenghi got a kind of “Ceviche” served by Pepe and fish soup and of course the famous “Brik”. I just wanted to pack my suitcase and travel there immediately.

Yotam Ottolenghi also mentioned the world famous Tunisian paste “Harissa” and was about to buy a jar of Harissa paste. The companion of Yotam Ottolenghi saved him from purchasing a jar and promissed to show him their homemade harissa.


The two Tunisian sisters showed Yotam Ottoglenghi their family recipe. I was very curious and quickly took a pen and a pad. I was ready to take notes. I listened and couldn’t believe my ears and eyes; they made a chili paste similar to our “Biber salçası” from Turkey.

The lady from Tunisia had soaked dried chili peppers, which they turned through a meat grinder to get a fine paste. Then they salted the paste and their harissa was ready to use!

My aunts make chili paste in the following way: The fresh red peppers that are grown especifically for this paste in eastern Anatolia, are sliced, cored and dried in the sun. Then the peppers are pressed through a meat grinder, best two times to get a fine paste. The chili paste thus obtained is again placed in the sun and dried a few days in shallow plates. Then, the lightly dried paste is boiled with salt (to make it last even longer) and filled into sterilized jars.

The main difference seems to be that the Tunisian “Harissa” paste is prepared from dried chili peppers and the Turkish “Biber Salçası” from fresh red peppers, but which are dried previously 😉

Yotam Ottolenghi does not fail to tell us that everyone in Tunisia has its own recipe for “Harissa”. Sometimes the people add spices such as cumin and coriander to their harissa paste. I tried the recipe of the Tunisian sisters and made harissa with dried peppers. It is challenging to get a fine paste using a blender, thus I add a little olive oil. I prefer to season the dish with cumin and coriander and not my really spicy harissa 😉

In Turkey, there are different variations too. Some mix fresh and dried chillies for their chili paste. Others stir in further herbs and spices and add olive oil and enjoy this paste as a spread on bread. As usual, the imagination has no limits. And the world is culinary closer than some might think. Enjoy it! Afiyet olsun!

Ingredients for a small jar

100 g dried red chilies, deseeded
hot water
2 garlic cloves, chopped
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Place deseeded chilies into a bowl. Pour in hot water and cover with a lid. Let the chilies soak until soft, at least an hour.
  2. Drain chilies and put chilies into a bowl. Add garlic and olive oil and blend until you get a fine paste. Season with cumin, coriander and salt and mix well. Transfer into a sterilized jar and keep in the fridge. Use up within 1 month.
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