Spice Up Your Roasted Squash With The Addition Of Harissa

Squash, especially when roasted to caramelized perfection, fares exceptionally well with sweet ingredients. Yet, although a drizzle of maple syrup, a handful of candied pecans, or a few dried cranberries can pair amazingly with any number of honeyed gourds, playing into sweetness isn't the only way to season squash. In fact, a superior way to highlight the ingredient is by contrasting its sugar-coated flavor with some spice — and harissa is more than happy to oblige.

A chili paste (but sometimes powder) with North African roots, harissa is a combination of roasted peppers, garlic, citrus, oil, and spices such as cumin, coriander, and caraway. While recipes can vary, harissa tends to have a profile that's zesty and smoky, but also slightly earthy. Bursting with complexity, it can impart an incredible amount of depth to a range of dishes. Naturally, this is exactly what makes it the ideal addition to help roasted squash get out of its far-too-frequent saccharine rut. 

Along with improving the flavor of mild-tasting squash varieties, pairing vibrant harissa and roasted squash also works to enhance visual appeal. Both paste and powder lend a touch of color. However, the greatest aspect of combining the two ingredients is that together they create a harmonious exchange of flavors. Counteracting the squash's iconically sweet and buttery profile, peppery harissa provides balance, helping to produce a more delicious result. 

How to use harissa to revamp roasted squash

Whether you decide to roast wedges of red kuri squash or rings of delicata, any type of gourd will do since most varieties boast a sweetness suitable to stand up against harissa. As for how to season the squash, you can either work with harissa in its paste or powdered form. The trick is knowing how to manage flavors so that the squash isn't overshadowed by the punchy paste, which is why we suggest using no more than a modest spoonful.

To easily elevate chunks of pumpkin, slices of kabocha squash, or scored summer squash, dress them in a marinade (or vinaigrette) that features harissa. All you need to do is coat the squash with the mixture before roasting and, voilà, you've crafted a flavorful side dish — or sheet pan supper, if you also toss in some chicken thighs. Of course, that isn't to say that the sweet-meets-fiery squash can't then be added into creamy mac and cheese, loaded vegetable panini, or bowls of greens and grains. 

Alternatively, you could use harissa to finish squash. We recommend mixing it with other condiments or toppings. For instance, add some into tomato sauce before topping roasted spaghetti squash, whisk it into a yogurt sauce to serve over acorn squash, or whip up a harissa aioli for dipping butternut squash fries. You could even dust pistachios and pancetta in harissa powder before garnishing honeynut squash. The sweet and spicy options are endless.