Soup Meets Exotic – Moroccan Harira

Harira is a soup completely unlike my usual repertoire; that is to say, my usual repertoire before I found this recipe a couple of years ago. To my palate, it’s thrillingly exotic with its Middle Eastern blend of spices, the bundle of herbs and cinnamon that add extra flavour while cooking, and the addition of lemon juice at the end of cooking that brightens the whole dish. The chick peas and lentils (I adore lentils) are toothsome and satisfying in the light and bright tomato-based broth. All the ingredients set out and ready to assemble look like an artist’s palette of colours; you just know know these are going to combine into something special. The heady fragrance, the depth of flavours and textural variety make this a complex sensory delight. (Can you tell that I really, really like this soup?)

I’ve made the recipe numerous times, but this weekend made it for Brent for the first time, unsure if he would like it. I was, therefore, rather unprepared for his reaction. Let’s just say it was enthusiastic: he couldn’t get enough of it. I thought we would have it for Sunday lunch, and maybe once during the week and I would try freezing the rest. I didn’t get a chance to see how this soup fares in the freezer because we had it for Sunday lunch, Sunday dinner and Monday dinner. Two days and the whole big potful was gone! Yes, he likes it, living up to the new title I’ve bestowed upon him — my Culinary Enthusiast.

I did a bit of research before making the last batch, and learned that there are many variations of Harira, which is Moroccan in origin, and typically served by Muslims during Ramadan to break the fast at the end of the day. Many of the recipes I saw called for meat (beef, lamb or chicken) but I am happy with this meat-free version. There are also variations in spices and other ingredients, but I wanted to introduce Brent to the soup as I have come to know it. Maybe in the future I’ll experiment with other variations, but then again, maybe I won’t.

Harira

I found this recipe in the Canadian Living Slowcooker Cookbook Special from Spring 2005. I have made it in the slowcooker before, and that’s a nice option if you want to put it together in the morning and then head out for the day, returning to a ready meal. However, this time I made it on the stove top, and I’ve adapted the recipe for that approach.

The recipe also calls for a garnish of ground cinnamon, thinly sliced lemon, and halved dates but I’ve never added those. Maybe I’ll step out of my garnish-free box one of these days and try this extra flair.

  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion (or 2 small), chopped
  • 1 tsp each ground cumin, ground ginger, turmeric and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • 1 large bunch fresh parsley (I use flat-leaf)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock (I use chicken)
  • 1 cup lentils, green or brown (sort through them and rinse before using)
  • 1 19-0z can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Finely chop enough of the coriander (cilantro) and parsley to make 1/4 cup of each, and set aside. Trim the ends of the bundles, rinse well and tie together with the cinnamon stick.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven, add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes or so until softened. Add the cumin, ginger, turmeric and pepper, and fry for another minute, stirring. The onions take on a beautiful golden colour, with flecks of the darker cumin and pepper, and the fragrance is mesmerizing.

Add the stock, lentils, chickpeas and tomatoes to the pot and stir. Add the herb bundle. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer for about two hours. At the end of this time, remove the herb bundle and discard. Stir in the lemon juice and the chopped herbs, ladle into bowls, pause for a photoshoot (okay, that part’s optional, but aren’t you glad I did?) and then eat.

I served the soup with freshly baked artisan style bread.  Mmm, a simple, incredibly flavourful meal. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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