Harissa Is The Spicy Tomato Paste Substitute That Still Brings Sweetness

Calling all hot sauce fans. It's time to rescue dinnertime from the bland zone with one tomato paste substitute: harissa. If you've never worked with it before, harissa is a spicy, smoky, peppery paste made from chile peppers, garlic, and olive oil. It's also flavored with various spices, including paprika, caraway, cumin, coriander, mint, or even rose petals. Harissa brings a one-two-punch of the inherent sweetness from the roasted red peppers alongside the euphoria-inducing capsaicin heat of the chiles.

Scarlet-hued harissa enjoys an especially fastidious fanbase with foodies in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and across the South Mediterranean. It's a popular ingredient in North African cuisine, where it's frequently used as a condiment like sriracha or ketchup for couscous, pasta, and soup. But, these are only the beginning of the ways that harissa can transform your go-to recipes with layered flavors and a big personality.

One of the defining characteristics of harissa is that it can be tough to define. With different blends of ingredients, not all harissa is created equal. Some are intensely spicy, while others are more garlicky or tangy. They also tote different consistencies, from chunky salsa vibes to smooth and spreadable. Keep these idiosyncratic differences in mind as you shop around and incorporate harissa into your recipes. As with any spicy condiment, just remember that a little harissa can go a long way.

Sweet-spicy belongs on your dinner table

You can find jars of harissa in many grocery stores or specialty Middle Eastern markets. Trader Joe's even makes a harissa paste. There's also harissa powder, which is essentially a dried version of harissa paste. You can incorporate this into your recipes, or quickly rehydrate it with a little oil and water. You can also make your own harissa at home with a food processor. If you opt for the homemade avenue, you have the benefit of getting to adjust the spiciness to your liking. It'll keep for two or three weeks in an airtight container in the fridge. 

For first-time harissa tasters, baked harissa chicken is a great jumping-off point to get comfortable with the ingredient. Swap tomato paste for harissa in your next batch of chili, coconut curry, or shakshuka. You could whip up a dimensional sausage ragu using harissa instead of tomato paste, or substitute it in cabbage rolls or stuffed peppers. For plant-based eaters, it'd make a flavorful tofu marinade or a great salad topping. Or, add a heaping spoonful to buffalo chicken dip to turn up the heat at your next tailgate. You could add a dollop of harissa to scrambled eggs or avocado toast for a kick-started breakfast. You could even incorporate it into mac and cheese or tuna salad. The options are truly endless for using this sweet-and-spicy paste that will soon become a staple in your kitchen.