Moroccan Olives with Harissa Recipe

Moroccan Olives with Harissa Adam Horne/Flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Prep: 3 hrs 20 mins
Cook: 6 hrs 30 mins
Total: 9 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings

If you already have the fiery North African chili paste harissa on hand, this addictive condiment will be almost effortless to prepare. You can control the heat factor by using more or less harissa to taste. Preserved lemon strips add lovely tangy flavor but you can omit them in a pinch.

You can use all black olives or a mix of various colors. I like the garlic to sing, so when using harissa from our local attar, I add another minced clove to the mix. Use your own taste buds to determine how prevalent you'd like the garlic to be.

Allow time for soaking the olives to remove the brine, and then additional time for marinating the olives before serving.

Also try Olives Marinated in Chermoula.


  • 12 oz. or 1 1/2 cups/250 g. whole olives with pits (all black or all green;  or a mix of green, tan, red and black)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons parsley (or cilantro, chopped fresh)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 of a preserved lemon
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (more as needed)
  • Harissa, to taste (recipe follows)
  • For the Harissa:
  • 8 to 10 dried red chili peppers (about 75 g)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
  • Olive oil, to taste or as needed

Steps to Make It

  1. Soak the olives in a bowl of water for a few hours or overnight; drain. (Or, if the olives are hard, soften them by soaking in boiling water for 15 minutes.) For better infusion of the marinade, make one or two small incisions in each olive (or gently crush them to crack the flesh of the olive).

  2. While the olives are soaking, make the harissa if it's not already prepared:

    • Remove the seeds from the chili peppers then soak in hot water for a half hour or until tender enough to mash. Drain.
    • Lightly toast the seeds in a skillet (just until fragrant) and grind them with a mortar and pestle.
    • Add the softened chili peppers, garlic, salt, lemon juice and olive oil to the mortar and grind to a paste.
    • Thin as desired with additional lemon juice and olive oil.
    • Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until needed.
  3. Seed the preserved lemon and cut it into thin strips.

  4. Combine the preserved lemon with the drained olives, parsley. lemon juice and as much harissa as desired.

  5. If you like, a little additional olive oil or garlic can be mixed in to the olives. 

  6. Cover and refrigerate for six to eight hours (overnight is best) before serving.

The olives will keep in the fridge for several weeks. Leftover harissa may be stored  in the fridge as well for use as a condiment with other foods.