Harissa is a traditional chili pepper seasoning used in various parts of North Africa including in Morocco, Algeri,a and Tunisia. It is a blend of herbs and spices that can come in one of two formats—a paste or a powder. The paste is the more traditional option and is used in most of the recipes that require harissa. While there is no one standard recipe for harissa, both formats do have some striking similarities as well as some differences. It will be important to weigh these if you are trying to decide which is right for your dish. Consider the harissa paste vs. harissa powder comparison below to make the decision easier.
How does harissa paste differ from harissa powder?
Harissa paste is a blend of dried or fresh spices such as chilies, cumin, and garlic. Herbal harissa ingredients often include mint and some more exotic blends may contain rose petals. In some cases, harissa paste is made with dried spices that have been combined with olive oil or water until the blend achieves a paste consistency. Some harissa blends include more than just spices; stewed tomatoes may be used to provide moisture that can help to make the blend into a paste.
With harissa powder, the blend of spices is used while dry with no added oil or water. Both forms of harissa can have the same ingredients and may differ only in consistency.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Harissa paste can be used in place of harissa powder in most recipes that involve grilling meat or vegetables. The semi-liquid nature of the paste makes it more of a marinade than a dry rub. Depending on the recipe, you may be required to adjust the amounts of other liquids in order to compensate for the extra liquid that the paste will bring.
Most recipes will require the paste form of the spice blend. You can replace harissa paste with harissa powder by sprinkling it over dishes, or you can use it to make your own harissa paste by adding the oil or water to the powder yourself. Simply add enough of the liquid to get it to the right consistency. Note that you may have to increase the total amount of liquid in the recipe to compensate for the reduced liquid if you use harissa powder.
When should you use harissa paste and when should you use harissa powder?
The fact that they can have the same herbs and spices means that they can each have almost identical flavor profiles; however, the difference in consistency means that you will need to use them differently. Harissa paste is better suited to being used as a sauce. You can use it in place of hot sauce or ketchup; it will provide a more complex flavor than either of those. The traditional use involves drizzling harissa paste into soups or onto rice. Use it to marinate chicken or lamb for the grill, where the oil or water will help to keep the meat moist.
Use harissa powder as a dry rub or add it to dishes where you want the spice without the added moisture. For example, it is a great way to spice up a hummus without increasing the amount of oil or making it too runny.