When I was preparing my recipe list for the Mediterranean cooking class at Pike Place Market, I knew I wanted to include a North African dish. Tagine would take too much of the one hour class, so I started researching other popular dishes from the often overlooked region on the Mediterranean Sea.

Harissa is a condiment, so fiery and spicy, that my Mexican roots were delighted after the first taste. It's delish-ness is unique, and versatile. For the class, I taught the guests how simple it was to put together, and I tossed it with roasted sweet potatoes for a side dish to our Mediterranean feast..

The following week, I made a fresh batch. This one a tad more spicy. I blended it with a full-fat Greek yogurt and served it with fresh pita for a catering event.

My love affair with harissa continued and I made another batch the following week. Again I added Greek yogurt and marinated chicken thighs in the sauce for my personal chef clients. Tons of flavor and protein. I served it over stewed red lentils spiced with caraway seeds.

Note: Make the Harissa a day ahead so the onions have time to hang out in the turmeric and salt. (I confess, the first time I made it I only let them sit for 6 hours, and it was delish.)

Harissa Sauce:


1 sweet Walla Walla, onion, (may substitute Maui Sweet or Vidalia Onion), thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

10-15 dried arbol chiles, stemmed and seeded

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 - 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups Greek Yogurt (do not use low-fat)

10 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless

Fresh mint, fresh cilantro (if desired for garnish)


1.  In a shallow bowl, toss the onion slices with the turmeric and salt. Cover the onion with plastic wrap and let stand overnight in the refrigerator.

2. After your onions have soaked overnight, heat a heavy pan over medium high heat. Add the arbol peppers and toast, turning frequently to prevent burning. The peppers will become fragrant. Transfer the chilies to a bowl, let them cool completely. Break off the stems and tear them into small pieces, allowing the seeds to catch in the bowl. Add the chilies to a food processor.

3. Drain the onion slices in a strainer, pressing hard to extract as much liquid as possible.

4. Transfer the onions to the food processor, along with the chilies, coriander, caraway seeds, pepper and cinnamon and process to a paste. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil and puree until fairly smooth. Empty into a large bowl and stir in 2 cups of Greek Yogurt.

5. Remove 1 cup of mixture and set aside. With remaining Harissa-Yogurt blend in a bowl, toss chicken thighs and cover completely. Refrigerate for 4 hours up to overnight.

6. In a hot skillet, add a tablespoon of canola oil. Add chicken thighs, charring on each side. Reduce heat and cover for 12-15 minutes, until cooked through. 

Garnish with mint or cilantro if desired.

Serve with reserved harissa atop red lentils or couscous.