Recipe 20 min plus cooking time for the peppersPreparation Time 25 min Cooking Time


20 min plus cooking time for the peppersPreparation Time 25 min Cooking Time

About this Recipe

Inspired by Cortney Burns’ harissa recipe, I set out to make a version using what I had on hand at the time. Misozuke limes (preserved in miso) took the place of the preserved lemons; caraway, sumac, and foraged dried spicebush berries matched her spice blend well enough for my purposes. To add a touch of umami, I included homemade douchi (fermented black soybeans). I purposely didn’t add onions, garlic, or the array of remaining ingredients, so the paste could be used in both savory and sweet applications, and it worked. I went on to use this harissa in a filling for a Japanese knotweed jam doughnut!

The Benefits

This recipe scores high in terms of traditional health wisdom. High in flavonoids and phenolic compounds, fennel is renowned for its many purported health benefits: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and even anti-cancer. In various cultures it is used as a traditional remedy forarthritis, gastritis, insomnia, gingivitis, and flatulence. Allspice is also immensely popular in several folk medicine traditions for treating colds, menstrual cramps, upset stomach, toothaches, and fatigue. Black soybeans, which are integral to many ethnomedicinal recipes, are high in proteins, essential amino acids, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anthocyanins. The beans are also rich in polyphenols, which may improve vascular function by reducing blood pressure.

Note: To char poblano peppers on a gas stove, place them directly on the flame over medium heat until the skin blisters and burns, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Put the peppers in a medium bowl and cover tightly for 10 minutes. Take off the cover, and when the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins by scraping them with a fork or a kitchen towel. Remove the stems and seeds. 

READ: Ferment | A Mindfulness Practice You May Never Have Tried


Makes about 1 pint (about 450 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dried spicebush berries
  • 2 teaspoon sumac powder
  • 3 unit pasilla chiles
  • 2 unit ancho chiles
  • 4 unit poplano peppers
  • 1 1/2 unit limes
  • 1 tablespoon achiote paste
  • 1 tablespoon black beans


  1. Step 1
    Toast the fennel, caraway, Sichuan peppercorns, and spicebush berries in a pan until warmed through and fragrant. Grind using your preferred method, then add sumac.
  2. Step 2
    Warm the pasilla and ancho chiles on a pan over medium-low heat until they are flexible and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Remove their stems and seeds, dice them, and combine them with the spices in a food processor or blender. Run until the mixture is mostly broken up into a coarse powder, about a minute.
  3. Step 3
    Roughly chop the roasted poblano peppers, add them to the blender along with the preserved lime or lemon, recado, and douchi and run until fairly smooth. It’s fine to have small chunks of chile and lime for hits of flavor in the final product. You now have a delicious, concentrated pepper paste to use as a base flavor for practically anything you want to cook, bake, or make sweets with. Store it in a covered container with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil on top for up to 3 weeks.

Substitutions: You can use allspice in place of the spicebush berries