Creamy Harissa Pasta
This harissa pasta recipe pairs the most deliciously creamy sauce made from harissa, tahini, smoked paprika, and nutritional yeast, with 4 different kinds of vegetables and (optional) shrimp for added protein. It’s easy to make, so flavourful, and incredibly nutritious!
Harissa is one of my favourite condiments, and using it as part of this pasta sauce was SUCH a delicious discovery! It was truly one of those recipes where I let out an audible “yum” when I tested it 😉
Whether you’re a harissa lover, or you’re new to this ingredient – you are in for such a treat! This easy harissa pasta sauce is so incredibly creamy (thanks to tahini) and packs in a nutritious punch, filled with veggies, healthy fats, and protein.
What is harissa made of?
Harissa is a spicy chile paste that originates from North Africa.
It’s typically made with ingredients such as red bell peppers, smoked hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and various spices.
What is the flavour of harissa?
Harissa reminds me a bit of blended, smoked red bell peppers mixed with a kick of spice and garlic. It’s slightly sweet, a little smoky, yet earthy, tangy, and rich in flavour. It’s hands-down one of my favourite condiments to use.
You can choose from either spicy or mild varieties, but I would suggest using a MILD harissa for this recipe (unless you like things really hot!!)
I’m not someone who’s very good at spicy foods, so if you’re like me – I promise that a mild harissa is very enjoyable and not overly spicy 😉
Want more recipes using harissa? Why not try this baked harissa salmon or these roasted carrots with harissa yogurt? You can also drizzle it over eggs or avocado toast for an extra punch of flavour. There’s no need to let that jar go to waste!
Ingredients + substitutions
Here’s what you need to make this harissa pasta recipe. Please note that all the veggies listed are pretty flexible – you can leave one out if desired, or add another kind (like broccoli or zucchini) in. Likewise, shrimp is optional and can be left out (for a vegan option) or swapped with cooked chicken!
- Spaghetti or other pasta: While you can use any pasta shape you’d like, I actually think I like this best with a long noodle (like spaghetti). That’s how I originally tested it, but then I realized I was out of spaghetti when I photographed the recipe – hence the shorter pasta shape you see in the pictures!! There’s just something about the way spaghetti picked up the creamy sauce that worked wonderfully. If you’re gluten-free, you can make this using a gluten-free pasta.
- Olive oil: Used to cook the shrimp and veggies in.
- Garlic: Minced garlic adds extra flavour to this pasta sauce. Feel free to use garlic powder if you’re in a pinch (just add it to the veggies when cooking them).
- Red bell pepper: Or you can use yellow or orange bell peppers.
- Tomatoes: I recommend using a small tomato variety, like cherry or grape. For extra flavour, I love choosing vine-ripened tomatoes when possible.
- Carrots: Any type of carrot will work here, they get chopped up and added to the sauce. For 1 cup of chopped carrots, I’d aim to buy about 3 individual carrots (although it will depend on size).
- Spinach: Stirred into the sauce for some added greens! You could also use another leafy green, like kale or Swiss chard.
- Mild harissa sauce: As described above, I recommend using a mild harissa sauce for this recipe (or else it may be too spicy). My all-time favourite harissa is from Mina (product linked). The ingredients are super simple!
- Tahini: Tahini is a paste made from toasted and ground sesame seeds, popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines. It has a nutty flavour and incredibly creamy texture which makes it the perfect base for a dairy-free pasta sauce.
- Lemon: Freshly squeezed lemon juice is preferred. It adds a nice acidity to balance out the rest of the flavours.
- Smoked paprika: Smoked paprika lends the perfect smoky flavour to this recipe – it goes so well with harissa, tahini, and nutritional yeast.
- Nutritional yeast: This yellow-coloured yeast adds a delicious “cheesy” flavour and slight thickness to this pasta sauce, as well as plenty of B-vitamins. Please do not confuse it with traditional baker’s yeast – that will NOT taste good!!
- Shrimp/prawns (optional): I love using shrimp as a protein source in this recipe, but you can leave it out if you want a vegan/vegetarian option. To increase the protein in that case, feel free to use a higher protein pasta (made from legumes). Instead of shrimp, you could also stir in some cooked chicken!
- Fresh basil: For added flavour and garnish. If you have some parsley in the fridge, you could add that too 🙂
Full ingredient measurements and detailed instructions are located in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post!
Step-by-step: how to make harissa pasta
Cook pasta according to package directions. While you can use any pasta shape you’d like, I actually think I like this best with a long noodle (like spaghetti). That’s how I originally tested it, but then I realized I was out of spaghetti when I photographed the recipe!!
Next, make the harissa tahini sauce by whisking tahini, harissa, lemon juice, smoked paprika, nutritional yeast, and hot water in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to use.
If using shrimp/prawns, cook those for 1-2 minutes per side on a large pan. Set aside in a clean bowl. If you want to make this recipe vegan, feel free to skip this step!
To the same pan you cooked the shrimp, cook the minced garlic, sliced carrots, peppers, and cherry tomatoes for about 10 minutes.
Stir in a couple handfuls of spinach (or another leafy green) and cook for a couple of minutes until wilted.
Then, lower the heat and pour in your creamy harissa tahini sauce!
Stir the sauce in with all the veggies…
…then stir in your cooked pasta and shrimp! Season with black pepper + fresh basil and serve hot 🙂
Nutrition benefits of harissa pasta recipe
The ingredients in this harissa pasta recipe are packed with nutrition benefits:
- Harissa is made from very simple, healthy ingredients like red bell pepper, chili pepper, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Together, these ingredients pack in some healthy fats, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
- Tahini is an good source of heart-healthy fats, plant-based protein, and essential minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium.
- Shrimp is an excellent source of high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also rich in micronutrients like selenium, vitamin B12, and iron.
- PLUS, you’re getting in 4 different kinds of veggies, including carrots, peppers, tomatoes, and spinach. These vegetables are packed with fiber, antioxidants, and various micronutrients, like vitamin C!
More healthy pasta recipes:
- Creamy Miso Tahini Pasta
- Baked Penne Pesto Pasta
- Tofu Tomato Pasta
- Mediterranean Canned Mackerel Pasta
- Sun-Dried Tomato Red Pesto Pasta
Did you give this Harissa Pasta Recipe a try? Let me know by leaving a comment and recipe rating below!
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Get the Recipe: Creamy Harissa Pasta (Easy & Healthy)
- Approx. 8 ounces pasta, dry (225 grams; 2 cups; or enough for 4 servings!)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Approx. 24-30 shrimp (prawns), thawed + tails removed (optional)
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large red bell pepper, chopped (or yellow/orange pepper)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes (or other small tomato)
- 1 cup carrots, peeled + chopped
- 2 cups baby spinach (or another leafy green, like kale)
- Fresh basil, to garnish
- Salt + pepper, to taste
- COOK PASTA: boil pasta water and cook to al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta when done and set aside.
- MAKE HARISSA SAUCE: Whisk all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl, until a smooth sauce forms. Season to taste with salt.
- COOK SHRIMP (optional): Start by stirring thawed shrimp in olive oil in a small bowl. This gets them evenly coated for cooking! Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, place shrimp in a single layer with some space between each shrimp. Cook for 1-2 minutes each side, until pink and opaque. Set aside in a clean bowl, working in batches if needed.*If you don't want to serve this with shrimp, skip this step!
- COOK VEGGIES: Make sure all shrimp are removed from the pan before adding in minced garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Then add in chopped bell peppers, carrots, and cherry tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.*There should be enough oil left in the pan from cooking the shrimp, but feel free to add an extra splash if needed! If not making shrimp, add the 1 Tbsp olive oil when heating up the pan to cook the garlic.
- ADD SPINACH: Add spinach to the pan and cook until wilted.
- ADD SAUCE: Next, lower the heat and pour the harissa pasta sauce into the pan. Stir into the vegetables.
- ADD PASTA + SHRIMP: Then, add the cooked + drained pasta to the pan, along with the shrimp. Stir everything together until the ingredients are well coated in the pasta sauce. Remove from heat.
- Serve and garnish with fresh basil and black pepper. Enjoy hot!
- Pasta type: While you can use any pasta shape you’d like, I actually think I like this best with a long noodle (like spaghetti). That’s how I originally tested it, but then I realized I was out of spaghetti when I photographed the recipe (whoops!), hence the shorter pasta shape you see in the pictures.
- If you’re gluten-free: you can make this using a .
- Protein: you can leave the shrimp out of this recipe for a vegan/vegetarian option. To up the protein, feel free to use a legume-based pasta. If you eat meat, you could also swap the shrimp with cooked pieces of chicken (stir it in at the end where the recipe calls for shrimp).
- Nutritional yeast: this is a yellow-coloured yeast that adds a “cheesy” flavour to this pasta recipe. Please do not confuse it with traditional baker’s yeast – that will NOT taste good!!
As a dietitian, I create recipes with whole food ingredients that provide the nutrients needed for optimal health. My nutrition philosophy does not focus on numbers; however, I understand that this information can be helpful.
Do note that the nutrition info provided is an estimate and I cannot guarantee correctness of the displayed values. These numbers will differ depending on brands used, recipe modifications, and amount eaten. If you require specific nutrition information due to medical reasons, please consult with your dietitian or physician.