Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo and Olives

Spicy shrimp, vibrant orzo, and briny olives—smartly planned, you can have dinner in 30 minutes!

Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo and Olives Next to Small Bowls with Olives, Lemon Wedges, and a Fork

Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

Shrimp is a weeknight cook’s BFF. For this recipe, I can have the shrimp coated in a marinade and threaded on skewers in the time it takes the water to boil for the orzo. The orzo takes 9 minutes to cook and the shrimp takes 4 minutes to grill. Then all you have to do is smash some olives—even faster than chopping—and season the orzo. But the important thing is, it will look like you really tried.

How to Shop for Shrimp 

When you’re shopping for shrimp, the size will be listed by how many pieces you’re likely to find per pound. This recipe calls for 16/20 shrimp—also called extra jumbo—which means there will be 16 to 20 shrimp per pound. It’s a nicely sized shrimp for threading on skewers. For reference, small shrimp is listed as 51/60, and colossal shrimp is U/15, which means you’ll get under 15 shrimp per pound. 

Once you’ve picked a size, consider the quality: Don’t purchase or use shrimp that is grainy, mushy, opaque, or smells like ammonia. Raw shrimp should be firm, translucent, and smell mildly like the sea. 

Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo, Olives and Lemon Wedges

Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

Peel and Devein the Shrimp 

Shrimp shells contain a lot of flavor, so you can cook them in their shells and peel them as you eat. Some people choose to remove the shells but not the tail, for presentation. For this recipe, I think it’s best to do the peeling up front: you won’t have to touch the spicy harissa to eat the shrimp, and it’s easier to thread them onto the skewers unshelled.

Tips for Grilling Shrimp

Shrimp cooks fast. They are on and off the grill in about 4 minutes. The key is to make sure your skewers are ready to go. If you’re using metal skewers, great! Just thread them with the shrimp in even batches—2 to 4 shrimp per skewer, depending on their length. Slide the skewer through both the top and bottom to form a C shape.

If you have wooden or bamboo skewers, they need to be soaked in water for at least 20 minutes so that they don’t catch on fire on the grill. Place the skewers in a rimmed pan wide enough to lay them flat and cover with water.

Simple Tip!

Soak, drain, and freeze the skewers. They’ll always be ready for you! 

Shrimp should be grilled over high, direct heat. They’re ready when they’re firm and opaque. They’ll get rubbery when overcooked. 

Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo, Olives, and Lemon Wedges Next to a Fork on a Cloth Napkin

Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

What Is Harissa?

The marinade for the shrimp is made with pantry staples plus harissa for its spicy, fragrant kick.

Harissa is a spicy chili paste from North Africa, a common condiment used in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. It’s made with hot chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil, and it often has roasted bell peppers, tomato paste, and coriander. It’s frequently served with roasted meats, seafood, vegetables, and egg dishes. 

You can find harissa as a powdered spice blend, a paste in a tube, or in a jar—I use the latter. Some brands sell both spicy and mild versions. I went for spicy, but the shrimp will still showcase the beautiful flavors of harissa if you prefer mild. 

Delicious Substitutions

The framework of this recipe—toss a protein in sauce and serve it on a starch—makes it easy to use substitutions:  

  • Cubes of swordfish would work well as a substitute in the seafood realm. Strips of thin chicken cutlets threaded onto the skewers also work.
  • Couscous would be a great swap for the orzo, but any short pasta would work. You could even use white or brown rice.
  • The flavor of turmeric for the orzo can be approximated with curry powder, which often contains turmeric. You could use 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin for a nod to the earthy flavor though you won’t have the yellow hue.
  • Large, mild green olives like Picholine or Castelvetrano are delicious, but pitted Spanish olives will also deliver a briny note. Use a scant cup because Spanish olives are more full-flavored and saltier.
Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo and Olives Next to Small Bowls with Olives, Lemon Wedges, and a Fork on a Cloth Napkin

Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

For Your Shrimp Cravings

Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo and Olives

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 9 mins
Soak Time 20 mins
Total Time 44 mins
Servings 4 servings

If you're using wooden skewers, you'll have to soak them in water for about 20 minutes. You don't need to soak metal skewers. You'll need 6 or 7 skewers depending on the size of your shrimp.


  • 1 1/2 cups dry orzo

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice)

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more for pasta water

  • 1 cup pitted mild green olives, such as green Picholine or Castelvetrano, crushed 

  • 3 tablespoons harissa, divided

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (16/20)


  1. Heat the grill to high heat, 450°F. 

    If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for about 20 minutes. You’ll be 6 or 7 skewers.

  2. Meanwhile, cook the orzo:

    Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions. Drain the orzo into a colander set in the sink and return it back into the pot.

    Orzo Added to Pot of Boiling Water for Harissa Grilled Shrimp

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

  3. Dress the orzo:

    Toss the orzo with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, turmeric, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in the olives.

    Orzo and Olives in a Pot for Harissa Grilled Shrimp

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

  4. Assemble the shrimp:

    In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons harissa, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the shrimp, toss to coat, then thread the shrimp onto metal or soaked wooden skewers. Use disposable gloves if you’d like.

    Harissa Sauce Whisked in a Bowl for Grilled Shrimp Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

    Shrimp Added to Harissa Sauce for Shrimp with Orzo and Olives

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

    Seasoned Shrimp Skewered for Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo and Olives

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

  5. Grill the shrimp and serve:

    Grill the shrimp for 2 minutes, uncovered, then flip and baste the shrimp with the remaining 1 tablespoon harissa. Skip the baste if you would prefer the shrimp less spicy. Continue cooking until the shrimp are opaque and just cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Serve the grilled shrimp with the orzo.

    Store leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. Shrimp can become rubbery when you reheat it in the microwave—place them under the orzo so they’re a little protected to help preserve their texture.

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    Harissa Grilled Shrimp on Grill

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

    Harissa Grilled Shrimp Basted on the Grill

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

    Harissa Grilled Shrimp with Orzo, Olives and Lemon Wedges

    Simply Recipes / Mike Lang

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
663 Calories
25g Fat
72g Carbs
38g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 663
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 25g 32%
Saturated Fat 4g 18%
Cholesterol 239mg 80%
Sodium 2528mg 110%
Total Carbohydrate 72g 26%
Dietary Fiber 6g 23%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 38g
Vitamin C 2mg 10%
Calcium 164mg 13%
Iron 5mg 25%
Potassium 556mg 12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.