{Party Food} Harissa Chicken Wings with Herbed Yogurt Dipping Sauce

These tender baked Harissa Chicken Wings are addictive. The heat, not overpowering but definitely there, builds slightly with each wing. Paired with my Mint and Cilantro Yogurt Dipping Sauce, and the heat is easily tamed.

In 2012 Auntie took me to The Cheesecake Factory (cheesecake being my favorite dessert) for my birthday. It was my first time there for dinner, and I was dazzled by their menu's size and global scope. I finally settled on the Moroccan Chicken (sadly, a dish no longer offered), first asking the waiter what harissa was as I had never heard of it. 

"It's chile paste used in Middle Eastern and North African cooking," said Mr. Waiter with a patient smile. 

Uh-oh, I remember thinking. I asked Mr. Waiter to hold it and bring me everything else. 

"No, I can't do that." What??? "You'll totally miss the full experience of the dish. The Harissa sauce really elevates the chicken." He paused a few beats as he watched me squirm, then added, "How about I have the kitchen put it on the side so you can control how much goes on the plate?" Hesitation. "Just promise me you'll try it, OK?" Fine. I gave in. His argument was passionately persuasive.

The plate came out, and as promised, the Harissa sauce was on the side. Tentatively, I dipped the tippy tip of my fork into the sauce and touched it to my tongue. Hmm. I did it again, only this time, dipping the fork in a little further. Hey! Hold the phone! This isn't so bad. A little heat, yes, but whoa! I carefully drizzled some sauce around the outer edges of my plate to swirl the Israeli couscous and the chicken through the sauce before raising the fork to my lips. Mr. Waiter returned, saw my harissa on my plate and smiled, triumphantly. "What did I tell ya? Pretty good, right?" Oh, yes! 

He got a good tip that night. 

This past birthday, I repeated that experience and the dish lived up to my memory. The experience made me curious to cook with it. Where could I find harissa in town, and how would I incorporate it into my cooking style? 

Where to find harissa locally was solved when my sister got me into a small market that I drove past every day for nearly seven years, never stepping inside the place. North Park Produce is a small grocery store in Normal Heights that my sister frequented when she lived in the area. She had been recovering from an accident and needed help with grocery shopping, so I took her. I was surprised to find a small, multi-ethnic market packed with staple items for several cuisines. From Greek to Israeli, African to Middle Eastern and Mexican, foods and spices, including the harissa I wanted to try, filled the place. I filed the information away for future kitchen experiments.

A few months after the market excursion, some good friends of mine hosted a movie night under the stars at their home to officially welcome summer. The invite said to bring a dish to share. I knew I wanted it to be a protein and that it had to be relatively healthy so I could partake guilt-free. What to bring? Like a file folder opening up on its own, the image of the harissa on the shelf at North Park Produce popped into my head. And with that, this Harissa Chicken Wings dish was born. 

I wanted the wings to marinate for at least 4 hours, so I picked up my ingredients and went to work early the morning of the party. Was I nervous creating a recipe with flavors I'd never worked with for a party where I'd have no time to switch gears if I screwed up? To be honest, no. Harissa is just that good. I figured if I tasted the marinade before putting in the chicken and got it to taste yummy, I'd be safe. 

I used another ingredient for this dish that I've never used before: rose water (also available at North Park Produce). Oh my goodness, is the scent intoxicating! While doing my research, I came across several Middle Eastern recipes that often combined harissa with rose water. So I thought I'd give it a try. Trust me, you don't actually taste roses in this dish. Instead, the rose water tempers and balances the spice from the chile nicely. However, the recipe will not suffer if you choose not to use it.

The wings were a huge hit at the party. Ditto the yogurt dip I threw together last minute. I have since made these several times, and they always please. 

The Fourth of July is this Friday. Now read my lips: You want to make these for your get-together. Seriously. These will make the perfect nosh to munch on while you're sipping your beer and manning the grill. They are the perfect finger-licking finger food. I made a second batch the next day for this post and I gotta say, Yum! Lunch this week can not get any better. 

Harissa Chicken Wings with Herbed Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Use your favorite brand of harissa chile paste or sauce. I used Piquant for these pictures but you can also try Mina Harissa (Whole Foods, Vons, Ralphs, Albertsons, Amazon or directly from mina.co). 

Serves 10-12


5 tablespoons Harissa chile paste or sauce, or to taste
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons honey (or agave syrup)
1 tablespoon rose water
Zest of one large lemon
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
4 - 5 lbs chicken wings, cut at the joints, tips discarded (or save for soup-making)

For the dipping sauce:
¾ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
2 - 3 teaspoons Harissa chile paste or sauce, or to taste
½ teaspoon honey (or agave syrup)
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
pinch sea salt
Chopped cilantro, for optional garnish


Whisk together the harissa, oil, honey, rose water (if using), lemon zest, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, garlic, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

Rinse and dry the chicken wings. Trim and discard any excess fat or skin. Add chicken to the marinade and toss to coat each piece well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or overnight).

Meanwhile, add the yogurt, harissa and honey to a small bowl and whisk together well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Just before serving, add the fresh mint and cilantro, stirring well to distribute. Add salt, to taste.

After the chicken's marinated for at least 4 hours, pull it out of the refrigerator. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil. Spray two cooling racks with non-stick cooking spray and set them in the baking sheets. Divide the chicken between the two pans in a single layer, so the chicken isn't touching. Spoon any remaining marinade over the chicken. Let rest on the counter for 20 minutes, then pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. When the oven is hot, bake wings for 15 minutes. Remove sheets from the oven and carefully flip all the wings over. Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. If you want a little more caramelization, broil for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the baked wings to a serving platter, garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with the dipping sauce on the side.

Happy Fourth, everyone! 
xo, Ani

Updated 1/11/21


  1. Looks good Ani! North Park Produce is a favorite spot of mine. I actually just picked up this canned harissa to make harissa chicken thighs with chickpeas. It has great flavor!

    1. Thanks, Brandon! I will have to try it with chicken thighs and chickpeas (yum! chickpeas!). :)

  2. Loving your food pictures. I've never shot in black, but I just got a new camera. Maybe soon I'll give it a go. Sharing! :)

    1. Thank you, Maggie! I really appreciate it! As for shooting on black, it's just so dramatic, isn't it? I love it but it can be difficult as the camera wants to compensate for the lack of light. I know photographers who have been shooting half their lives and are still intimidated to try it. I've been doing it for years and more recently here on the blog because it's just the mood I'm in right now. :)

  3. Have you tried making these in an air fryer? We just got one and I'd love to try these in it!

    1. I haven't yet. I don't have an air fryer but I do have Ninja Foodi with an air crisp function. Might have to give it a try! Thanks for the idea!


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