A Caribbean Harissa Recipe

harissa recipe caribbean 1

By Nigel Spence
CJ Contributor

Shifting toward a whole food plant-based diet requires quite a bit of changes in the way one eats and presents quite a challenge in keeping the dishes interesting. Bold flavors along with great eye appeal go a long way to help the final touchdown on the palate just in time to keep the food boredom at bay.

We all eat with our eyes as well as the palate, so both must continually be satisfied so as not to regress to our wicked ways of grabbing pre-prepared foods off the supermarket shelves and sticking it in the microwave and calling it a dinner. Convenient, yes, good for you, probably NOT.

To keep things interesting and somewhat easy, I have always been an advocate of having a few different homemade sauces or condiments on hand for the moment hunger strikes.

The boring asparagus and potatoes in your vegetable bin can quickly come alive with a drizzle of some exciting concoction you may have made ahead of time; hanging out in the fridge just waiting to assist with that palate pleasing craving you need to satisfy. These simple made from scratch sauces will be your best friend in your time of need.

Taking a few herbs and spices and pounding them out in a mortar and pestle or blender, can take a simple boring dish or ingredient to a much higher place. I find that using very bold flavors will excite the palate enough to kill the cravings for French fries or that late night greasy shop pizza with all the “bad for you” toppings.

Here is one of my go-to favorites that is sure to keep you in line with your diet goals – even at your most vulnerable moments It adds a satisfying savory component to any dish.


  • 2 whole roasted Red Bell peppers (from jar or homemade, stems removed)
  • 4 dried red Chili peppers soaked in water for at least ½ hour (dried ancho chilies or any other mild variety)
  • ½ teaspoon fresh Scotch bonnet peppers, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic Cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Thyme, rough chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Cilantro, rough chopped


1. Remove stems from all peppers, reserve the seeds to add back to sauce after it has been puréed. 

2. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until puréed. Add the seeds to the purée. Enjoy over vegetables, as a marinade or as a general condiment for many dishes.

Add a teaspoon of harissa and tahini to just cooked chickpeas for a spicy treat.

Add a spoonful to the cooking water of rice or couscous for flavor and color.

Add to a tomato soup or any other vegetable soup to boost its flavor!

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.