Looking to learn how to make spicy vegetarian Harissa pasta?
Our healthy pasta recipe features homemade North African harissa paste, sweet bell peppers, roasted squash, dry sherry, fragrant spices, feta cheese, cream and al dente noodles.
You can cook our quick & easy Harissa Pasta in under 30 minutes. It’s guaranteed to be a new favourite at your family dinner table!
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What Is Harissa?
Harissa is a North African hot chili pepper paste. It’s a popular condiment and sauce at restaurants in Tunisia and Morocco.
The name harissa comes from the Arabic verb harasa, meaning ‘to pound’, or ‘break into pieces’. It’s thought to originate from Tunisia’s bustling spice souks. Chili peppers were imported into Maghrebian cuisine by the Columbian Exchange, presumably during the Spanish occupation of Tunisia between 1535 and 1574.
The main ingredients in harissa paste are dried chili, garlic, caraway seeds, cumin, coriander, paprika, lemon juice and olive oil.
Traditional recipes for harissa vary according to the family and region. Variations can include the addition of fermented onions and lemon juice.
In Tunisia, harissa is used as an ingredient in the preparation of grilled meats like poultry, beef, goat, or lamb and fish stew with vegetables, and as a flavoring for couscous. In Morocco, home cooks often add harissa to tagines.
You can make homemade harissa paste or purchase prepared harissa paste if you’re crunched for time.
Travel to North Africa by Cooking Harissa Pasta at Home
I love traveling to Africa and the Middle East.
My first visit to the region was a family road trip to South Africa. We fell in love with Africa while driving through Kruger National Park, The Panorama Route, Port Elizabeth, Tsitsikamma, Hermanus, Stellenbosch and Cape Town.
As a professional food and travel journalist I’ve had the opportunity eaten at some of the best restaurants in Kenya, Egypt, Namibia, Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Dubai.
What I found most fascinating is Africa and the Middle East’s distinct regional food cultures. Much like the regional cuisines found in France, Germany and Italy, each town in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey serves its own local speciality.
After returning from an African adventure, prepare our healthy harissa pasta recipe for friends and family to share a spicy taste of North Africa.
My Family Loves Vegetarian Harissa Pasta
My family loves vegetarian harissa pasta because it’s healthy and quick & easy to make last minute.
We’re all omnivores and thankfully don’t have any allergies. We try and balance a healthy diet that features lean meat, sustainable seafood, local cheese, legumes, seeds, nuts and fresh vegetables.
I fell in love with harissa when on a road trip of Morocco with my dad. We spent 2 weeks driving from Casablanca to Marrakech, making stops to visit tiny towns, beautiful beaches and scenic mountain ranges.
Restaurants would typically serve a spicy harissa paste at our table as a condiment we could spoon over fragrant couscous or steaming tagines.
Me and my dad fell in love with North African food culture and now enjoy cooking Harissa Pasta at home.
In Toronto, you can likely find harissa on menus at Fat Pasha, The Sultan’s Tent, Atlas Restaurant, Morocco House and Bar Sybanne.
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Spicy Harissa Pasta Health Benefits
Our Healthy Harissa Pasta recipe is packed full of healthy ingredients!
It is only recently that scientists have begun to identify the components responsible for garlic’s myriad health benefits. Rich in phytochemicals and potassium, garlic helps boost your immune system, fight cancer and protect your heart.
All varieties of pumpkin (or squash) are nutritious, but butternut squash is a superfood because it contains high levels of carotenoids, which help combat cancer and support skin health.
Bell Peppers are an incredible source of vitamins C and A, which support your skin and immune system. They also provide beneficial carotenoid compounds such as beta-carotene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Rich in a group of phytochemicals called carotenoids, tomatoes may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and provide protection against cancer. Tomatoes are also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C.
Consuming dairy products (such as milk and cheese) provides health benefits — especially improved bone health. Dairy foods provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. These nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.
A rich source of phytochemicals and vitamin C, lemons help boost your immune system and neutralize free radicals that cause disease and skin aging. Lemons also protect against heart disease and help improve blood flow to the brain.
Olive Oil is ranked as one of the healthiest fats and is a staple in the Mediterranean diet. It contains vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants.
A rich source of blood-building iron, cumin may also help balance your blood sugar levels and reduce bad cholesterol. It is also traditionally used as a digestive aid.
Paprika is rich in vitamin A, capsaicin, and carotenoid antioxidants. These substances may help prevent inflammation and improve your cholesterol, eye health and blood sugar levels.
Whole wheat flour in pasta is rich in vitamins B-1, B-3, and B-5, along with riboflavin and folate. It also has more iron, calcium, protein, and other nutrients than white flour.
Best Harissa Noodles
We’ve used spaghetti noodles in this recipe but there are several pasta varieties we recommend using when making Harissa Pasta at home:
- Spaghetti or Linguine: long and thin pasta noodles are our favourite way to twirl spicy sauce with a fork.
- Rigatoni or Penne: extruded pastas that are cylinder-shaped offer an excellent vessel for spicy sauce.
- Gnocchi: plump Italian dumplings do a great job at absorbing the flavours of our vegetarian harissa pasta sauce.
- Pici: make Tuscany’s famous rolled noodle to impress DIY-loving guests.
- Orecchiette: Puglia’s “little ears” fill with harissa pasta sauce and are fun to chew.
Tips For Making Homemade Harissa Pasta
If it’s your first time making Harissa Pasta we suggest you start by reading the ingredients list and recipe directions below so you understand each step.
Hosting a large dinner and are time crunched? We suggest roasting the pumpkin or squash 24 hours in advance and storing in the fridge to keep cool overnight. That way the only work you have to do at mealtime is quickly stir the sauce ingredients into an al dente pasta of your choice.
If you have vegans joining you for dinner this dish would not be suitable unless you omit the whipping cream and cheese.
We’ve sprinkled the pasta with feta but feel free to substitute with gruyere, manchego, aged cheddar or parmesan cheese.
While this simple recipe is vegetarian you could also make it meaty for a carnivorous feast. We’d suggest adding sliced roast chicken breast, juicy ribeye beef, crispy bacon or butter-fried garlic shrimp.
What To Serve with Harissa Pasta
Harissa Pasta can be enjoyed as a main course or side dish. It keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days so store it in an airtight container and enjoy leftovers as a quick and easy lunch at work.
We love serving our Harissa Pasta recipe as an entree, enjoying large bowls with a slice of sourdough bread or gourmet crackers.
The best pasta with harissa sauce should be paired with a bottle of dry white wine, preferably from a local winery in Beamsville, Niagara on the Lake or Prince Edward County. The recipe also pairs well with a citrus-forward IPA craft beer. If you’re more of a mixed drink fan check our our guide to the best craft cocktails.
Our favourite way to serve this spicy North African pasta dish is alongside a healthy salad. Some of our favourite fresh salads include Goi Ga Vietnamese Salad, Roasted Vegetable Couscous, Sweet Potato Rice, Canadian Salad, Garlic Lemon Chickpea Avocado Salad, Vegan Chinese Cucumber Salad, Nam Tok Thai “Waterfall Beef” Salad, Laos Papaya Salad Tum Mak Hoong, Roasted Beetroot Salad with Grapefruit, Pistachio and Herbed Cream, Mizeria Creamy Polish Cucumber Salad, Goi Xoai Vietnamese Mango Salad and Indian Onion Salad.
If you’re looking for a great dessert idea to enjoy after your pasta feast why not try our popular Blueberry Mango Crepes with Coconut Flour, Banana Oat Flour Pancakes, Apple Fritter Muffins, Sticky Toffee Banana and Date Muffins or Dark Chocolate Lindt Lindor Cookies.
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How To Make Healthy Harissa Pasta
Vegetarian Harissa Pasta
- 15 Dried chiles de árbol
- 2 Dried guajillo chiles
- 1 Dried ancho chile
- 1.25 tbsp Ground cumin
- 1.75 tsp Ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp Caraway seeds
- 3 Garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp Lemon juice
- 1 tbsp Apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp Tomato paste
- 1.5 tsp Paprika
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup Olive oil
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 cup Butternut Squash peeled and diced
- 2 Garlic cloves minced
- 1 Small red bell pepper sliced
- 1/4 cup Dry Sherry
- 1.5 tbsp Homemade harissa paste
- 1 tbsp Tomato paste
- 1/2 cup Whipping cream
- 1/2 tsp Cumin
- 1/2 tsp Paprika
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup Feta Cheese
- 280 g Pasta like spaghetti or penne
- Place arbol, guajillo, and ancho chiles in a large heatproof measuring glass. Pour boiling water over to submerge, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until chiles are very pliable and cool enough to handle, 15–20 minutes. Drain then remove stems and seeds and discard.
- Toast cumin and coriander in a dry skillet over medium-low heat, tossing constantly, until very fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Transfer to a food processor, add garlic, and pulse until spices are broken up and garlic forms a paste. Add chiles and pulse until chiles form a coarse paste. Add lemon juice, vinegar, tomato paste, paprika, and salt and process until mostly smooth but mixture still has a little texture. With the motor running, stream in ½ cup oil. Process until oil is incorporated.
- Place a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
- Peel and remove seeds from pumpkin and cut 1 cup into a chunky dice. Toss in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
- Spread out the pumpkin chunks on a baking sheet ensuring the pieces do not touch. This ensures they will caramelize and get crispy.
- Bake squash until they are easily pierced by a fork or knife, 30-40 minutes depending on size. After 20 minutes, flip pumpkin chunks so they bake evenly on both sides.
- Remove roasted squash from oven and let cool at least 30 minutes.
- In a large non-stick skillet, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and minced garlic. Fry for 1 minute on medium heat until browned. Add sliced bell peppers and cook for 2-3 minutes until tender.
- Add dry sherry, harissa paste, tomato paste, whipping cream, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir on low heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat once the sauce is thickened to your liking. If you prefer a thinner sauce add more sherry or vegetable stock.
- Boil pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Strain pasta and add to harissa sauce.
- Toss pasta in spicy harissa sauce then transfer to bowls. Sprinkle with feta cheese and serve hot.
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