Libyan · North African

Spice Up Your Life/Dinner – Libyan Hareesa (Hot Sauce)

My siblings and I were raised on spicy food. If the food wasn’t spicy to begin with, we supplemented it with hot sauce. The hot sauce in our house was either homemade hareesa or Sriracha’s spicier sister called Huy Fong’s Garlic Chili Sauce. The homemade hareesa is hands-down my favorite of the two; however, it’s availability at home depended on the peppers the local grocery store stocked. So we probably had Garlic Chili Sauce more often than the homemade hareesa and none of us minded. But when we had the hareesa available, you would find me in the kitchen coming up with any excuse to have some. Making a sandwich? I would put a nice thick layer of the stuff on the bread before adding the cheese. Having soup? I would stir in a nice helping of hareesa before eating it. Making shakshooka? I’ll make it with some hareesa. The list could go on forever!


Hareesa can be found all over the Middle East and North Africa. In Tunisia, it has a slightly bitter taste with ground carraway seeds. And inconveniently, it comes in a can or tube. I prefer a jar. In Libya, we don’t traditionally use the carraway; instead, most people mix in a little fresh tomato and maybe add a clove of garlic. However, what is most important to know is that hareesa in North Africa is always hot sauce. In the rest of the Middle East, hareesa is actually a dessert. So it’s either hot sauce or a semolina cake soaked in honey. This makes for lots of confusion at potlucks and parties when someone mentions they are bringing hareesa!


  • 15-20 hot, red peppers
  • 1/2 tomato, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon olive oil

When you buy the peppers, make sure they are nice and firm. You don’t want to use peppers that are about to go bad, so avoid buying any soft or wrinkly peppers. One tip that I learned from my mother is to wear disposable latex gloves when handling large quantities of peppers. Otherwise, later when you rub your eyes, you’ll get some residual pepper juice in them and they will sting. Soap and water will not be enough to remove that residual pepper juice, so gloves are your friends! Rinse your peppers well before starting and then remove the stems by cutting off the top with a knife. I like to cut my peppers into a few pieces before tossing them into the blender (or food processor).

If you don’t want your hareesa to be too hot, you can also remove the seeds with a small paring knife from half the peppers or all of them. I keep all the seeds intact because I prefer hareesa that is hot enough to clear my sinuses and tear up my eyes. Add the roughly chopped garlic cloves and the half tomato to the peppers in the blender. By the way, the purpose of the tomato is to add a little moisture to allow the hareesa to blend more smoothly and the citric acid will act a slight preservative. Now, blend your hareesa until it looks smooth, but lumpy…you want to make sure there aren’t any large chunks of pepper left.

Pour the hareesa into a small saucepan, make sure to scrape the sides of the blender with a spatula or wooden spoon to get all the hareesa off the blender wall. Heat the hareesa over medium-high heat, mixing every 45-60 seconds, until some of the liquid boils off and the hareesa thickens. You’ll know it is ready when you scoop up some hareesa with a wooden spoon, turn it sideways and the hareesa doesn’t easily slide off. It should mostly stick to the spoon and not immediately slide off back into the pot.

When it’s ready, mix in the salt and olive oil. The olive oil will help reduce the spicy heat of the hareesa, so use less if you want it to be more on the hot side. (Tip: If it any point later, you decide the hareesa is too spicy for you, just add some more olive oil.) Allow the hareesa to cool and then transfer it to a sterilized jar. Be sure to store it in the refrigerator. If you don’t eat hareesa too often, you can freeze half of it so it doesn’t go bad and pull that out when you have finished the half in the refrigerator.

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Libyan Hareesa

  • Servings: 1.5-2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A Libyan-style, homemade chili-garlic hot sauce that is delicious with everything! Great for adding spicy heat when cooking, too.


  • 15-20 hot, red peppers
  • 1/2 tomato, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. Rinse the peppers, cut off the stems and roughly chop each into 3-4 pieces. Place the chopped peppers in the blender. (Tip: Wear disposable, latex gloves when handling the peppers.)
  2. Add the roughly chopped tomato and garlic to the blender. Blend until lumpy, but smooth. There should be no large chunks of peppers.
  3. Pour the hareesa into a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Allow some of the liquid to boil off, stirring every 45-60 seconds. Once the hareesa is relatively thick, but still has moisture, remove from the heat.
  4. Mix in the salt and olive oil. Allow the hareesa to cool, then pour into a sterilized jar.
  5. Store the hareesa in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. Part of the batch can also be frozen if it will not be consumed in the next 2-3 weeks.





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