For Chili-Packed Pizza, Substitute The Tomato Sauce With Harissa

It's 2024, and we know that marinara isn't the only saucy choice for pizza. You can go with vodka, pesto, or white sauce if you're looking to switch it up, but one option you may not have considered is harissa. If you've never heard of it, harissa is a red paste often used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. It's packed with seasonings like garlic, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, coriander, and caraway seeds, along with roasted red peppers and hot chiles like New Mexico or chiles de árbol, and a dash of tomato paste and lemon juice. So, while it's based in tomato flavors, it takes off in a much spicier and tangier direction.

How could a sauce like that not taste delicious on pizza? If you prefer mild flavors or have an aversion to spice, there's a chance you won't enjoy this combo. But even if you're not a huge fan of heat, harissa sauces can vary in spiciness, so you can always opt for a milder version or mix it with tomato sauce to tame it down. Besides being a more exciting swap for marinara, this upgrade also makes your pizza a beautiful base for other Middle Eastern and North African ingredients and flavors.

Hot pizza starts with harissa

When it comes to finding your harissa, you can buy a jar at the store or make it yourself at home. Spice isn't the only element to take into consideration when buying (or making) a sauce — some brands and ingredients are smokier, tangier, denser, or more watery than others. If you're looking to bring down the heat or thin it out, you can mix it into tomato sauce, as we mentioned. But if you like it as is, go ahead and spread it straight onto your rolled-out dough. To amp up the flavor even more, try mixing in a little olive oil, garlic, or honey to add a touch of sweetness.

As for toppings, feel free to keep it simple or get as creative as you want here. You can make almost any basic pizza with harissa to take it to the next level flavor-wise, including Margherita, pepperoni, or supreme. But why not lean into the spices and chiles in your sauce? To do so, try topping your pizza with meats like mini Moroccan meatballs, lamb, chicken, or sausage; feta instead of mozzarella; and tasty veggies like sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, cauliflower, spinach, and zucchini. Instead of dipping your slices in ranch, try a creamy yogurt sauce like classic tzatziki to cool off your tongue.