Spicy Harissa Pizza

Instagram is my preferred social media site because I would rather spend the mornings scrolling through pictures of my friends (and let’s be real: their food!) than reading people’s arguments on Facebook. However, Instagram told me some news this week that made me feel less than ideal: it’s been 20 years since the Spice Girls released their cinematic masterpiece, Spice World. I’ve always joked that I’m a 70-year-old lady at heart because I could spend all day watching The Golden Girls, and my dream car is a white pearl Cadillac DeVille. But, the news of this anniversary made me truly feel old. I believe my first CD was the Spice Girls’ first album, Spice, and I actually enjoyed their movie when it premiered, which signifies my maturity level at that time. Instead of continuing to reminisce about my elementary school days and discuss the treasure that is 90s music, I decided to spice up my life (and now yours, too!) with a new pizza sauce recipe.

I’m glad people seem to be giving pizza the love and attention it deserves. It really is one of the most perfect foods because even in its lowest forms, it still satisfies on some level. Sure, Domino’s or Pizza Hut pizza wouldn’t be my first choice for a Saturday night dinner, but delivery pizza has its place for certain occasions like game day or a late night meal. However, if you use high quality (dare I say it, *good*) ingredients, you can kick this meal up a notch (now I’m channeling my inner Emeril Lagasse…BAM!). Seriously, when I had the pleasure of presenting research at a conference in Rome in 2014, I was amazed at the power of a simple margherita pizza to stun my tastebuds. There are plenty of places in the US and even here in the Triangle who also produce noteworthy pies that can function as an impressive entree, rather than a convenience food.

Yassss, Queen!

This past year, I have been playing around with pizza-making at home to accommodate my lactose intolerance and produce a meal that will last throughout a busy work week. I’ll confess; I do not make my own dough (yet…just waiting on that Kitchen Aid mixer); I use Trader Joe’s whole wheat dough. However, rolling this dough out and baking it on a pizza stone is a real game changer when making a homemade version of this universally beloved comfort food. Heating the stone prior to baking the pizza yields a crispier crust, so you do not feel like you are sacrificing quality by enjoying a slice at home, rather than your local pizza parlor. In fact, making pizzas from home has motivated me to raise my standards because there is truly something special about the process of assembling your ingredients, creating your favorite pizza, and waiting for it to cook, as you enjoy a glass of wine and a 30 Rock episode. Side note: Liz Lemon would enjoy this option, too! Not as much as her meatball sub with extra bread, but I digress…

Today, I’m sharing my new favorite pizza sauce recipe that is sure to deliver some heat and take you from Papa Johns to Pizzeria Mercato (my local snazzy pizza joint) in the comfort of your own home! The star of this sauce is harissa, an African hot chili paste, that is making appearances in many recipes this year.


To say I love spicy foods would be an understatement. Honestly, I’m surprised I still have taste buds at this point in my life because I thrive on fiery foods. Curries, salsas, chili oils, you name it, I probably own several containers of it. I always order the highest level of spice at Indian and Thai restaurants, and I won’t pass up the “Spicy” option of a dish if it exists. I had to jump on the Harissa bandwagon when I saw Harissa paste at my local Trader Joe’s. I’m sure you can find it in specialty food stores or the ubiquitous “Ethnic Food” section of your local grocery store. Other than the prevalence of cheese, I often struggle with some Italian dishes because they seem bland to me (again, my own fault). Thanks to the addition of harissa paste in this sauce, this pizza is now on rotation for weekly meals. I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I do. Also, if spicy foods make your world go ’round, may I suggest also grinding some ghost chilies atop your pie, as you jam out to vintage Spice Girl tracks!

Spicy Harissa Pizza 


Yields: One pizza (serving size depends on your hunger level, I’m not judging!)


1 package whole wheat pizza dough (I buy mine from Trader Joe’s, but you also can make your own dough if you’re fancy)
Flour, for dusting

Spicy Harissa Sauce
3/4 can organic tomato sauce (make sure the ingredients are tomato puree and seasonings ONLY, no added sugar because it dilutes the flavor)
2 heaping tablespoons harissa paste (use less if you don’t like spice)
2 cloves roasted garlic
2 teaspoons hot sauce (Cholula is my favorite)
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Cheese (I use Trader Joe’s vegan almond milk cheese, but if you’re not lactose intolerant, by all means use the real deal)
One onion, sliced
Meat of choice (optional, but I love to brown 4 sliced chicken sausages and add those for some extra oomph)
Crushed red pepper
Crushed ghost chilis (Get on my level!)


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°, and place a pizza stone in the oven as it warms.
  2. Liberally flour a surface, and roll out the pizza dough.
  3. In a mixing bowl, stir the sauce ingredients together, and adjust the spice level to your preference.
  4. After the oven preheats, remove the pizza stone from the oven (I did this using a new oven mitt I received for Christmas…thanks, fam!).
  5. Carefully place the dough on top of the pizza crust.
  6. Spread the sauce on the dough, and add cheese, mushrooms, and whatever other toppings you prefer. Do NOT add the arugula during this time.
  7. Place the stone back in the oven for 20 minutes, but you may want to check the pizza periodically because ovens vary in their intensity (just like people’s political opinions<–see, I have learned something in grad school).
  8. Once the dough looks crispy, and the cheese has melted, remove the pizza from the oven.
  9. Let it cool on the counter for 10 minutes (I only waited 5 because I was really hungry, and I struggled to cut the pizza more than I usually do).
  10. Slice the pizza, and top with arugula and more crushed red pepper.

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