Harissa is very adaptable, so you can use any combination of dried peppers. In California we have access to the best Mexican chiles, with every flavor profile, from fiery hot to smoky and sweet. I prefer to keep my harissa mild, adding cayenne pepper at the end to set the heat level.
If you love the heat, use one or two chiles de Arbol. For this recipe I use dried guajillo peppers which are very mild with a lot of depth and ancho for that classic smoky, sweet flavor.
2 dried ancho chile
1 tsp cumin seed or ground cumin
1 tsp caraway seeds or ground caraway
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
Place chiles in a large heatproof glass bowl. Pour boiling water over the chiles, then cover with plastic wrap, or a heavy plate.
Set aside for 15-20 minutes, until the chiles are very pliable and are cool enough to handle.
Drain the water. Remove the stems and seeds and discard (wear gloves for this part).
Toast the cumin and caraway in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing constantly, until very fragrant, about 3 minutes. (If you don’t have seeds, ground cumin and coriander can be used. ) Transfer to a food processor, add garlic, and pulse until spices and garlic are broken up .
Add the chiles and pulse until mixture forms a coarse paste. Add the vinegar, tomato paste, cayenne pepper and salt and process until the mixture is mostly smooth but retains a little texture. With the motor running, stream in ½ cup of olive oil. Process until the oil is incorporated.
Transfer the harissa to a bowl or glass container. Pour remaining ¼ cup oil over top.
Cover tightly and chill.
Harissa can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 month.