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Spicy Cherry Tomato Sauce

Sweet cherry tomatoes and Moroccan spices come together in 20 minutes to make a rich, rustic, spicy cherry tomato sauce that you just want to put on everything!

I recently had the pleasure of hosting an online cooking class with Bonnie Stern. Bonnie is an award winning cookbook author, founder a popular Cooking School in Toronto, cooking show host, culinary cultural tour guide and national food columnist.

cherry tomato sauce in pan with cilantro 1

This cherry tomato sauce is Bonnie’s recipe. Or part of it. In the class, our group poached fish in the sauce to make Chraime, a North African spicy tomato sauce cooked with fish. It was scrumptious which is why I am sharing it. The sauce part.

You may not be familiar with Harissa, one of the ingredients. Harissa is a hot chili paste from Tunisia made with red chilis, garlic, spices, oil and some type of acid. You can buy it in Middle Eastern of African stores. Or substitute it with another hot sauce like garlic chili sauce or sriracha.

Make the recipe in 3 easy steps.

  1. Saute onions incorporating the seasonings, garlic, tomato paste and harrissa.
  2. Add tomatoes, jalapeno and water.
  3. Simmer until cherry tomatoes burst and turn into a sauce. That’s it.

I like to leave the tomato sauce a bit chunky. To get is smoother, cook it longer and smoosh the tomatoes more.

I have made this recipe many times now. Simple, easy, flavor-rich, colorful and versatile. And…. it’s low calorie, low fat, gluten free and vegan.  As usual, lots of variations are possible. Not bad for one little spicy tomato sauce!

Tailor To Your Taste

Here are several variations and substitutions you can use. 

Spiciness

  • Make the sauce as spicy or mild as you like. Make sure to remove the ribs and seeds of chilis unless you want blazing heat.
  • Instead of a jalapeno, use a cubanelle pepper (mild) or anaheim (mild-medium) for less heat. Here is a great guide to chili peppers and their level of heat from mild to super hot.
  • You can also skip the chili altogether.
  • If you can’t find harissa paste, replace it with with sriracha, chili garlic sauce or dried chili flakes.
  • Try adding a pinch of cinnamon to the sauce. A common North African spice.

Tomatoes

  • Any in-season chopped tomatoes of any color will work. Cherry tomatoes tend to be sweeter.
  • You might need to add less water if the tomatoes are watery.

Tomato paste

  • The tomato paste isn’t absolutely necessary. I always use it, though, as I find it amps up the flavor and richness.
  • Add a pinch of sugar if needed to balance the bitterness is some tomato pastes.

Cilantro

  • I know some people hate it. I find it adds depth and flavor without being overwhelming in this dish. My husband never notices and he doesn’t like cilantro.
  • If you’re still reluctant, use parsley instead.

Ways to use the cherry tomato sauce

On ice cream! Just kidding. But it is amazing on so many dishes. Here are a few suggestions.

  • On pasta (see picture below).
  • With fish. When the sauce is almost complete, add seasoned mild fish (no skin), spoon over sauce, cover and cook and medium low for 6-8 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Alternatively, roast salmon and spoon on the sauce (pictured below).
  • Drizzled over grilled or roasted vegetables like eggplant, zucchini or mushrooms.
  • Drizzled over scrambled eggs or an omelet.
  • Tossed with meatballs
  • As a dip. Cook the sauce a little longer to thicken it more. Serve with homemade naan, crackers or crostini.
  • As a topping for crackers and ricotta.

Make Ahead

  • Cool the cherry tomato sauce and store it in the fridge for 3-4 days in a sealed container or zipper bag.
  • Or freeze it for 3-4 months.

Also try our San Marzano tomato sauce for a more traditional sauce. Or, if you are looking for another way to use cherry tomatoes, try our cheesy broiled tomatoes.

cherry tomatoes, sliced onions, jalapeno, garlic, tomato paste, salt, oil, water, seasonings, harrissa paste
Gather the ingredients: cherry tomatoes, onions, jalapeno, garlic, tomato paste, salt, oil, water, seasonings, harrissa paste. Slice onions, mince garlic and prepare jalapeno.
cooked onions and seasonings in pan
Saute onions in olive oil. Add garlic, seasonings, harissa, tomato paste and stir for 1-2 minutes.
cherry tomatoes and sauce ingredients in pan
Add tomatoes, chopped jalapeno and water.
partially cooked cherry tomato sauce in pan
Simmer tomatoes until they burst, stirring occasionally. Help them burst with the back of a spoon or spatula (careful of the squirts!). Cook until thickened.
cherry tomato sauce in pan with cilantro
Add cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings e.g. more spice, salt, cilantro, a pinch of sugar. If too thick, add more water.

close up of cherry tomato sauce

cherry tomato sauce mixed with spaghetti on plate
Pasta with cherry tomato sauce.
cherry tomato sauce served over salmon on plate
Roasted salmon with cherry tomato sauce
cherry tomato sauce in pan with cilantro 3
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5 from 8 votes

Spicy Cherry Tomato Sauce

Sweet cherry tomatoes and Moroccan spices come together in 20 minutes to make a rich, rustic, spicy cherry tomato sauce that you just want to put on everything!
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Sauces
Cuisine: North African, Vegetarian
Servings: 2 -4 depending on use
Author: Cheryl, Two Kooks In The Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 tsp
  • 1/2 jalapeno chili, seeded, ribs removed, Note 1 (or less if you want less spicy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon harissa paste Note 2 (or 1 tsp or more if you like it spicier)
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste plus a pinch of sugar
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (1 pint) (about 3/4 lb)
  • 1/4 cup water or more as needed
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Seasonings

  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika I use half and half
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  • SAUTE: Heat oil in medium pan with 3 inch sides (or large pan) to medium high. Saute onions for 4-6 minutes until tender and lightly browned. Add garlic, seasonings, tomato paste (with a pinch of sugar) and harissa. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
  • ADD CHERRY TOMATOES, JALAPENO AND WATER. Bring to boil. Then lower heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally. The total time for cooking sauce (this step and the next) will be about 6-8 minutes, After 5 minutes, help burst tomatoes by gently pressing with spatula or large spoon to burst them (careful not to squirt yourself).
  • FINISH SAUCE: Stir in cilantro. Continue cooking until tomatoes form a sauce the consistency you like. More cooking will make it thicker. Add more water to thin it out if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings e.g. more salt, sugar, harissa, cilantro. See Note 3 for suggestions on ways to use the spicy tomato sauce.

Notes

  1. Chili options:
    • Instead of a jalapeno, use a cubanelle pepper (mild) or anaheim (mild-medium) for less heat. Or skip the jalapeno altogether.
  2. Harissa options: You can use sriracha or chili garlic sauce instead. Or even red dried chili flakes.
  3. Ways to use the cherry tomato sauce (more details in the post above):
    • On pasta, fish or chicken
    • Drizzled over grilled or roasted vegetables or scrambled eggs. 
    • Tossed with meatballs
    • As a dip. Cook the sauce a little longer to thicken it more. Serve with homemade naan, crackers or crostini.
    • As a topping for crackers and ricotta.
  4. Make Ahead: Cool the cherry tomato sauce and store it in the fridge for 3-4 days in a sealed container or zipper bag. Or freeze it for 3-4 months.
 
Nutrition values are estimates based on two large portions of spicy cherry tomato sauce to use e.g. on pasta, fish or chicken. 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Spicy Cherry Tomato Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 113 Calories from Fat 63
% Daily Value*
Fat 7g11%
Saturated Fat 1g6%
Sodium 956mg42%
Potassium 446mg13%
Carbohydrates 11g4%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 2g4%
Vitamin A 1162IU23%
Vitamin C 42mg51%
Calcium 23mg2%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Made this last night since i have all kinds of tomatoes. I discovered i didn’t have harissa but i did have chilies con adobo and used it instead of the harissa. Result is pretty hot but deep and complex taste . I took off the tomato skins since they mostly come off when cooking down the sauce. Made a double batch. I better freeze some – may make another batch!

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