Harissa is undeniably an exotic ingredient. Just like smoked paprika or chili paste, it is not something that is either staple or ordinary. Therefore, finding the best harissa substitute can be difficult, especially if you are not aware of how this ingredient works.
The very first time I came across harissa paste was when a friend of mine introduced me to her roasted chicken recipe. She had included harissa and peas in the dish, making it more pleasurable to the tongue. After that, I made sure this ingredient was present in my spice rack.
But just as with other condiments and spices, harissa is not always available. After all, it is a regional ingredient that is only common in the Middle East and North Africa. Outside of these places, it is a rare find.
Fortunately, there is a way out of this problem. As long as you know all the potential alternatives to this spice, your life in the kitchen will be less stressful. Before revealing all of these recommended substitutes to you, I will, first of all, discuss the overall nature of harissa.
What Is Harissa?
It is essential that you know the fundamentals of harissa; otherwise, you will never know how to use it properly. As I said earlier, harissa is a traditional ingredient in North Africa and the Middle East. This spice gives their dishes an authentic traditional feel. One good example of this is kebabs that taste so much better when they’re sprinkled with harissa. The spice provides an authentic, idyllic flavor with a spicy, chili-flavored tang.
Harissa is a paste made from different kinds of spices and herbs, including garlic, caraway seeds, coriander, and red chilies. Some manufacturers have modified the way they make harissa, but the flavor of this ingredient generally remains the same.
Many people are searching for harissa because of its capacity to enliven particular dishes. If you haven’t found any yet, don’t worry, there is still hope as there are a number of harissa alternatives for you to try.
Best Harissa Substitutes
Cooking can be bothersome, especially if you have run out of a particular ingredient and it is nowhere to be found in your kitchen or nearby grocery stores. This situation is inevitable sometimes, but it’s not impossible to overcome this predicament if you are both quick-witted and resourceful.
I have listed all of the possible ingredients that can recreate the same taste as harissa. Here they are:
Harissa Powder or Harissa Paste
Harissa comes in two different forms: powder and paste. Both harissa powder and harissa paste are interchangeable. So, if there is no harissa powder available, you can just replace it with harissa paste (if it is available), and vice versa.
These two forms have the same flavor and aroma, but their consistency is dissimilar, especially the texture. This is because the paste is not as loose as the powder. Harissa paste can be created with ingredients that are similar to harissa powder, but the paste can contain olive oil or water.
As I stated earlier, the ingredients of commercial harissa products are varied. Therefore, make sure that the blends that you choose are similar in composition to the harissa that you want.
Also, be aware of what kind of harissa you need for the recipe you are making. For example, powder harissa is not a good choice for dishes that requires a thick texture, and harissa paste is not the ideal option if you are making dry rubs for chicken and other types of barbecues. But regardless of this fact, you can interchange these two harissa products by using a 1:1 ratio.
Chili Powder as Harissa Substitute
This is another exceptional alternative to harissa. Despite being made out of a special blend, chili powder is still pretty accessible in most markets around the world.
Chili powder is made from a combination of spices that are commonly present in Latin American recipes. From this fact, you can deduce that most chili powder today is made out of cumin and dried chilies. These spices are also present in some harissa variants. As a result, their flavor palettes are not that different.
You can always use chili powder if you want your recipe to give your food a slightly moderate heat. Harissa powder tends to be hotter than ordinary chili powder, so add red pepper flakes or cayenne to the chili powder if you want your food to have an extra kick. These ingredients can emulate the strong spicy flavor of harissa.
If a particular recipe requires you to use one teaspoon of harissa, you can just replace it with one teaspoon of chili powder, but you always have the option to lower or increase the amount of chili powder, depending on your preference.
Berbere Spice as Harissa Substitute
Berbere spice has the same origins as harissa and has a similar tang, which makes it a compatible alternative. The spice originally started in the Horn of Africa. There is a misconception that berbere was first used in the northern regions of Africa, but this is completely untrue. The reason for this confusion is due to cumin and chili peppers being pretty common in North Africa.
Berbere has now branched out and is already been modified in different regions. As a result, it is a specialty choice, especially because of its flavor profile. Despite this, you can still liberally add Berbere spice to any recipe that needs harissa. Use a 1:1 ratio again.
Sriracha as Harissa Substitute
The consistency of harissa and Sriracha are worlds apart, but their flavors are undeniably a match that’s made in heaven. Sriracha is a good alternative to harissa for dishes that require a spicy punch, as the spiciness is not that overwhelming. You will find it being used in Tunisian recipes.
Sriracha also has a subtle garlic tang, which will remind you of the earthy flavor of harissa. To further improve the flavor, just add cumin, caraway, and coriander.
I find that adding these extra spices is a necessity, for Sriracha seems thin if you use it on its own. With these additives included, however, you can achieve the same consistency as harissa paste. Alternatively, you could use hot paprika to replace the three spices.
Red Pepper Flakes as Harissa Substitute
If you cannot find any of these alternatives, then you’ll have no other choice but to use red pepper flakes. Harissa and red pepper flakes are not at all similar, but they can both add heat to your food. If you only need your food to be spicy, then you’ll find that red pepper flakes are fine. But you cannot replicate the subtle, yet complex flavor of harissa with red pepper flakes alone.
If you want to thicken your recipe, you should mix red pepper flakes with Sriracha or sambal oelek, which will improve the flavor of the dish without altering its texture.
Tandoori Masala as Harissa Substitute
There are other ingredients that you can try as an alternative to harissa. One of them is Tandoori masala, which is the cousin of garam masala.
Tandoori is a native Indian spice blend that is commonly used in the making of Tandoori chicken. It is primarily based on red pepper, garlic, and coriander, which are all present in the typical harissa blend. The problem with this ingredient is that it is difficult to acquire.
Finding the best harissa substitute is by no means a walk in the park. Sometimes, it can get tedious, as this particular ingredient has a unique taste and texture. In fact, you may have already noticed that there are not many potential alternatives to harissa. This just goes to show that it’s not an easy job to replicate this spice blend.
Fortunately, the ingredients I have listed here are all fully capable of being a harissa substitute. They work well in different recipes and most of them are not that difficult to acquire.
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