Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo with Black Olives

Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo with Black Olives
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We’re in the middle of a cold snap right now and I’m not taking it well. It’s unattractive. I’m very whiney. And I really shouldn’t be because this winter has been very kind to us so far. We’ve had almost no snow and this is the first spell of truly cold weather we’ve had. But still, I hate the winter so much that I can’t see it from a rational adult perspective. From where I’m sitting there is little to love about winter aside from temporarily escaping it. And that’s what I’m presenting you with today, a cozy, carb-tastic escape. This Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo tastes better with rosy cheeks and a renewed appreciation for heavy socks and the wonders of indoor heating. In other words, it’s the perfect dish for times like these. So let’s make it!

Whole sweet potato on a cutting board pierced all over with a fork

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about what we’re looking at here. This dish features tender orzo dressed in a silky sweet potato and harissa sauce studded with black olives and ribbons of lacinato kale. It’s hearty, cozy, and requires minimal chopping and effort. I don’t know about you, but in the winter I’m 100% committed to that low-effort lifestyle. 

Kale on a cutting board

We’re going to start by preheating the oven to 400°F. Pierce a couple of sweet potatoes all over with a fork and pop them directly on the rack in the oven. I prefer to leave my potatoes naked when I roast them. I don’t think they need the adornment. But you can coat them with olive oil and salt if you would like. Whatever route you choose, don’t forget to place a baking sheet underneath them to catch any drips. And leave them to roast for a good hour. 

Roasted sweet potatoes split open

Now, you may be asking the perfectly reasonable question of why I chose to roast the sweet potatoes. And it’s true, I could’ve cubed them and simmered them in stock and pureed them from there. Well, to be honest, I prefer the texture of a whole roasted sweet potato. I find it to be silkier than the others and a lot less watery because it’s cooked in its own skin in the relatively dry heat of the oven. I find boiled sweet potato tends to be waterlogged. But this preference is just that, a preference. So if you would rather not fire up your oven for an hour, don’t. Boil your potatoes or simmer them in the vegetable stock. Do what you need to to get your ideal silky smooth potatoes. 

Sautéed kale in a large cast iron skillet
Adding roasted sweet potato to the skillet

I don’t say this too often but I’m going to say it now – cook those potatoes within an inch of their lives. We want them to fall apart under your gaze. You need to be able to mash them with the back of your spoon and be met with no resistance. These sweet potatoes are giving your pasta its creaminess, so get them good and creamy.

Creamy sweet potato sauce with kale in a large skillet

While the potatoes are merrily roasting away, dice the onions, mince the garlic, and tear the kale because once the potatoes come out of the oven and the oil hits the pan, everything is going to move fairly quickly. Start by sautéing the onion and garlic. To the aromatics add a little tomato paste for sweetness and harissa for heat and personality. Add the kale to the skillet and cook until it wilts. Now, scoop the sweet potato flesh into the skillet and mash it as best you can with the back of your spoon. It shouldn’t put up much of a fight. Now, stream in a little veggie stock. Only add enough to make a nice thick sauce.

Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo with Black Olives

Now, let’s put the orzo in this Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo. I used the whole pack of orzo and it does indeed make a ton of servings. But I have to tell you, these leftovers are the best lunches in the world, so I say cook all the pasta and eat for a week. And if you have a giant family, invest in a bigger pan and double the batch because if they’re anything like me, they will inhale this dish. Stir in the cooked orzo, and the black olives, and season with salt accordingly. I like to hold off on adding too much salt until the olives are in there. How much salt you add to the pasta will depend on the saltiness of your olives. 

Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo with Black Olives

Finish the pasta with shredded Grana Padano, pecorino, or Parmigiano Reggiano. Add whatever else you think it might need. I usually add another scoop of harissa but I’m a heat fiend, so you may or may not want to follow my lead. And that’s everything you need to know about this Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo. It’s simple, cozy, and tasty to boot. In other words, it’s the perfect February pick-me-up. 


Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo with Black Olives

Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo with Black Olives

This Sweet Potato Harissa Orzo features tender orzo dressed in a silky sweet potato and harissa sauce studded with black olives and ribbons of lacinato kale.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Servings 6


  • 1 large deep cast-iron skillet


  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 454g (1lb) uncooked orzo
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp harissa
  • 1 head lacinato kale torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • ½ cup kalamata olives pitted
  • 1/2 cup Grana Padano shredded


  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Pierce the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and place them directly on the middle rack in the oven. Place a small baking sheet underneath them on the lower rack to catch any drips. Roast for 1 hour or until extremely tender. **
    2 large sweet potatoes
  • Once the sweet potatoes are done, split them down the center and open them. Set them aside to cool.
  • Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring it to a boil. Liberally salt the water and add the orzo. Cook the pasta according to the package's directions. Drain and rinse the cooked pasta and set aside.
    454g (1lb) uncooked orzo
  • While the potatoes are cooling and the orzo is cooking, pour the olive oil into a large, deep cast-iron skillet and place over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering add the onion and a pinch of salt. Saute until translucent.
    2 tbsp olive oil, 1 yellow onion
  • Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and harissa. Sauté for a minute more. Add the kale and cook until it begins to wilt.
    3 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 3 tbsp harissa, 1 head lacinato kale
  • The sweet potatoes should be cool enough to handle at this point. Scoop the flesh out of the potato's skins and add it to the skillet. Mash the potatoes with the back of your spoon while streaming in the vegetable stock until a thick creamy sauce forms. Stir in the orzo and the olives.
    1 cup vegetable stock, ½ cup kalamata olives
  • Taste and season the pasta with salt accordingly. Take the pasta off of the heat and stir in the Grana Padano. Spoon the orzo into bowls and garnish with additional cheese and harissa if desired. Serve immediately.
    1/2 cup Grana Padano


** You can roast the sweet potatoes up to three days in advance. 
Keyword harissa, kale, olives, orzo, Sweet Potato

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  1. 5 stars
    Made this last night as a side dish to a toasted pork tenderloin. It was delicious! I had to make a few adjustments due to not being about have/find all the ingredients in my little rural area…subbing 2 Tbs of the harissa for Ras El Hanout, collard greens for the kale and Parmesan for the Padano!
    Loved it! I think I’ll take the rest and stuff it into some red peppers 😋 Thank you!!