This spicy roasted red pepper sauce is packed with flavour. And thanks to jarred roasted red peppers, it is the ultimate convenience sauce – a healthy pantry-based sauce that is ready in no time.
Cook legumes (like butter beans or chickpeas) or veggies (like roasted cauliflower or charred broccolini) in the red pepper sauce for a wholesome plant-based dinner.
Or simply serve the sauce with warm pasta for a quick and easy weeknight meal. These white beans in roasted red pepper sauce is only the beginning.
You need jarred red peppers in your pantry
While repeatedly testing harissa recipes – and therefore repeatedly making rose harissa paste from scratch – I grew to appreciate the convenience of jarred roasted red peppers. It is perfect for emergency harissa when you run out amidst a streak of busy recipe testing days.
Check out the recipe for homemade rose harissa paste if you want to know more about this fragrant condiment.
The realisation first dawned on me when I made the “Muhamarra Chickpea Stew” from One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones.
If I can use jarred roasted red peppers for a muhammara-inspired sauce, surely I can use it for harissa sauce?
It eventually led to this pantry-based roasted red pepper sauce that sings with the fragrant, floral notes of spicy rose harissa. My cheat’s harissa sauce.
Spicy roasted red pepper sauce (cheat’s harissa sauce)
If you have jarred red peppers in the pantry, you can pull this vegan pantry-based roasted red pepper sauce together whenever the urge hits. However, you can roast fresh red bell peppers too. The instructions are outlined below.
This sauce has flavours traditionally found in fragrant harissa paste. It is, in fact, very similar to harissa before the pepper and spice blend is reduced into a paste.
How to make vegan roasted red pepper sauce for pasta, beans or veggies
Toast the whole spices in a dry pan for about 2 minutes. You can use pre-ground spices though they are less fragrant – they start losing flavour as soon as they are ground. Tip the toasted spices into the bowl of a food processor.
Return your pan to medium-high heat – don’t fret if you missed a few seeds – and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add a peeled and chopped red onion and cook until browned on the edges, stirring now and then. It should take about 8 minutes. Add sliced garlic and some form of chilli – more if you like it spicy as I do. I use Kashmiri chilli powder.
The flavour is fantastic, and I adore the gorgeous bold colour it imparts. But you can use any form of chilli (freshly sliced, powder, or flakes). Smoked chilli flakes are also super yum to use here. Cook – stirring often – until the garlic is fragrant and golden.
Place the cooked onions into the food processor bowl and add half a cup of water, roasted red bell pepper flesh (jarred or freshly roasted), a tablespoon of tomato paste, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of salt. Blitz until smooth for about a minute.
Add the sauce back to the pan you used for the onions. Simmer the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes.
You can cook any veggies that can withstand 15 minutes of cooking (like canned butter beans or chickpeas). But more delicate vegetables, like zucchini noodles, are better off cooked separately. Stir them through the sauce after 10 minutes.
The same goes for pasta. Cook your pasta in heavily salted water until al dente or according to package instructions. Drain, reserving some pasta cooking water, and add the pasta to the sauce after 10 minutes. Use the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce, if necessary.
How to make roasted red pepper sauce from bell peppers
The roasted red pepper sauce recipe calls for roughly 200 grams (7 ounces) of roasted red pepper flesh – about a medium-sized jar of drained roasted red peppers.
To make the sauce from freshly roasted red bell peppers, start with 3 medium-sized bell peppers – about 450 grams (1 pound) of whole red bell peppers. The fresh bell peppers will approximately reduce by half after prepping and roasting.
Scale the recipe ingredients according to the weight of your final roasted peppers. No need to be precise. This is a very forgiving recipe.
- Preheat the oven to 220 °C (430 °F) for a non-fan oven. Reduce the heat accordingly if using a fan oven.
- Cut the bell peppers in half. Remove and discard the stems, cores, veins and seeds. Then place the peppers cut side down (skin-side up) on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- Place the tray in the hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the red pepper skin is wrinkly and charred in places.
- Remove from the oven and allow the peppers to cool down before removing most of the skin – which should be nicely loosened from roasting. No need to be obsessive here. Any bits sticking to the flesh can be left.
Proceed with the roasted red pepper sauce recipe as outlined, substituting the cooled roasted red pepper flesh for the drained jarred red peppers.
What if I don’t have a food processor?
For a smooth sauce, you will need to use a mechanised blender. Food processors, blenders or even stick blenders (immersion blenders) work well.
If you don’t have any of these tools, you can make a chunkier version of this sauce with a few easy substitutes.
- Chop the sauce ingredients (onions, garlic and roasted red pepper) finely instead of roughly.
- Use ground spices instead of whole seeds.
- Cook the sauce for an extra 15 minutes with an extra half cup of water to allow everything to fall apart.
Without a blender, the sauce will never be as silky smooth. But it will have all the charred, spicy, fragrant flavours of the original.
Serving suggestions, substitutes & leftovers
Tinned organic butter beans work well for this recipe, but you can use any good quality white bean – home-cooked, jarred or tinned.
I add toppings when I serve the dish as a main. The vegan lemon tahini sauce adds creamy earthiness, gently cooling the spicy sauce. Soft green herbs – in this case, dill – add freshness. And crispy garlic and almonds in olive oil add a fragrant, crunchy punch.
The toppings are quick and easy to make, but you can omit them in favour of what you have on hand.
How to serve white beans in roasted red pepper sauce
Serve the spicy beans as part of a mezze spread with
- a zesty salad (like this Arabic chopped salad),
- or a grain salad (lik this bulgur wheat salad),
- marinated feta, and
- pita triangles or yoghurt flatbread.
If you’re after a wholesome vegan meal, serve the beans with sauteed kale and cooked grains (like quinoa or pearl barley).
Or simply serve it with toasted sourdough or flatbread and a large handful of dressed crunchy salad leaves on the side.
It is also perfect for a group brunch. You can make the spicy beans well in advance. Reheat gently over medium heat and gather everyone around the table before cooking your eggs. Serve it with poached eggs and toasted slices of sourdough. You can also treat it like shakshuka. Nestle eggs in the reheated spicy beans and cook until the eggs are to your liking.
What else can I cook in the roasted red pepper sauce?
This recipe has butter beans, but you can use this sauce for any cooked legumes. Try chickpeas or lentils!
Serve the sauce with your favourite veggies for a wholesome plant-based dinner. Roasted cauliflower, pumpkin or zucchini is delicious. And so is charred broccolini.
Or serve the sauce with pasta for a quick and easy weeknight meal. Cook your pasta in heavily salted water until al dente, or follow the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving some cooking water, and add the pasta to the sauce. Use the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce, if necessary.
You can cook the beans in roasted red pepper sauce a few days in advance. Place it in a sealed container in the fridge. This will allow all the flavours to mingle while it sits. Gently reheat it in the pan before serving. Add a splash of water to loosen, if needed.
Best of all? If you’re lucky enough to have some leftovers, turn cooked spicy beans into a bright orange, spicy butter bean and red pepper hummus. Spread liberally on your morning toast. Or use it as a dip with crunchy veg or crispy corn chips.
Leftover butter bean and red pepper hummus
- Place the leftover butter beans in roasted red pepper sauce in a small food processor or a jar that fits your stick blender (my preferred tool for this job).
- Add two tablespoons of tahini for each cup of leftover beans.
- Blitz until smooth. Add a splash of cold water if the mixture is too thick.
- Have a taste and increase the salt and chilli powder to your liking.
This versatile pantry-based vegan recipe is the perfect tool for weeknight cooking. Be sure to always have some tinned white beans and jarred roasted red peppers in the pantry. You’ll be able to whip up white beans in roasted red pepper sauce in no time at all!
Love jarred red bell peppers?
Why not try it in another recipe:
- Food processor Use a food processor or stick blender for a smooth roasted red pepper sauce. Alternatively, chop the ingredients by hand for a chunky sauce. See the blog post for instructions.
- ½ tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 red onion, roughly chopped (about 160 grams)
- 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced, divided
- ½ teaspoon kashmiri chilli powder, or chilli flakes
- 1 jar of roasted red peppers (200 grams drained weight), or see notes for fresh bell pepper instructions
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 lemon, zest and juice (1½ tablespoons, divided) separated
- 2 (400 gram) tins butter beans (500 grams drained weight)
- 1 teaspoon rose water (optional)
- 2 tablespoons almonds roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1 small handful fresh dill, or other fresh green herbs like coriander parsley or mint leaves
- Place a dry frying pan over low heat. Once the pan is hot, lightly toast the cumin, caraway and fennel seeds for 2 minutes. They will start to pop and smell fantastic. Set the toasted seeds aside.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the same pan – don’t fret if you missed a few seeds in the pan – followed by the chopped red onion. Cook until the onion starts to darken (6 to 8 minutes) – stirring occasionally. Add half the sliced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder (or more to taste). Stir frequently and cook for another 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant and the chilli powder evenly coats the onions.
- Place the cooked onion mix in the bowl of a food processor with the toasted spices. Add the drained roasted red peppers, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and half a cup of water. Blitz it into a smooth sauce, about 1 minute.
- Return the red pepper sauce to the pan and place it back on medium-high heat. Stir through the butter beans (or other legumes) – breaking a few beans with the spatula as you go – and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick and sticking to the beans.
- Meanwhile, whisk 2 tablespoons tahini with 2 tablespoons water, a pinch of salt, the lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice (about 1/2 tablespoon). Whisk until you have a creamy, smooth and pourable sauce. Add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if needed.
- When the beans are almost ready, make the garlic and almond topping. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining sliced garlic and chopped almonds. Cook for a few minutes – swirling the saucepan now and then – until the garlic is lightly golden. Take care not to let the garlic go too dark or it will be bitter. Carefully decant everything into a small heat-resistant bowl if the garlic turns darker than lightly golden, or simply remove the saucepan from the heat. Keep an eye on the garlic because it will continue to cook while in the hot oil.
- Stir a teaspoon of rose water through the cooked bean stew. Taste and add more salt if needed.
- Spoon the beans into a shallow serving bowl. Drizzle it with the tahini sauce, pour over the garlic and almond oil, and scatter with dill fronds. Serve immediately.
- See the blog post for instructions on how to roast bell peppers.
- If you don’t have a food processor, you can chop the red peppers finely with a knife. The sauce will be significantly chunkier.
- I love the flavour and gorgeous colour of Kashmiri chilli powder, but you can use whatever you have at home. Maybe try some smoked chilli flakes if you have them!
- This recipe uses cumin, caraway and fennel seeds. But you can easily use only one of the three. Or use harissa powder as a substitute for the chilli flakes and spices.
- How long it takes for the garlic to turn lightly golden will differ depending on your heat source and the thickness and size of your saucepan base. Keep a close eye on the garlic. Once it starts to sizzle, you only need about 30 seconds for the garlic to be lightly golden. If you remove the saucepan from the heat immediately, you can simply set it aside. But if the garlic goes past lightly golden, you need to decant everything into a heatproof bowl to cool down the oil and avoid burning the garlic.
- The roasted red pepper sauce is the star of the show. So the toppings are optional if you are short on time, but they do a lot to round out the dish. Lemony tahini sauce cools down the heat from the spicy red pepper sauce. Crispy garlic and almonds add a crunchy texture. And soft green herbs sing with freshness. Add whatever you have around the house for cooling creaminess, freshness and crunch. Let me know in the comments what you added!
- You can make the beans well ahead of time. It allows for the flavours to infuse. Store the butter beans with roasted red pepper sauce (without toppings) in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Gently reheat it in a saucepan before serving with fresh toppings.