Monday, August 12, 2013

moroccan harira soup

Unfortunately I couldn't get this post up in time for Eid, but I made it anyways because it was simply the recipe I couldn't wait to try once I returned from Morocco.  Garrett and I pretty much at harira every night we spent in Morocco.  Its a traditional soup for Ramadan, served at iftar meals after the evening call to break fast.  As we traveled north from Marrakech to Tangier, we tasted a few variations of this soup, and the recipe below combines characteristics of a few different regions.   While most we ate were vegetarian (like this),  others had a rich, meaty flavor that must have been either lamb or goat.  In the north we were more likely to encounter the soup finished with egg whisked in, and I included that here because I think it adds some richness to a vegetarian version.
Our favorite harira experience, by far, was at a little neighborhood place called Cafe Kasbah in the Tangier medina.  We dropped by right before iftar just for a coffee, and the guy running the place, Hassan, was happy to have us sit while he and the other men running the six-table cafe broke fast.  They passed us dates, orange juice, and fried goodies, including us in their iftar ritual.  They gave us a rich, meaty harira and a thin grilled bread with chicken and onions pressed between the buttery layers.  We ordered nothing and they fed us happily, just passing dishes to our table.  I guess it didn't seem right to eat the iftar meal while others around them weren't included.  I don't think it every seemed right to a Moroccan to not offer a ridiculous amount of food to your guests.  I've never experienced such hospitality anywhere in the world.  We returned to visit Hassan and the cafe the following evening, this time ordering a delicious vegetable tagine, and of course, more harira.  We met a number of Moroccans who really made our travels wonderful, and Hassan was one of my favorites.  شكرا

Ingredients (makes about 8 servings):
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 celery stalks, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green chili (like serrano), minced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 large can (14 oz.) whole stewed tomatoes, crushed or pureed with the juice
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup lentils
  • 1/3 cup orzo (or broken up vermicelli pasta)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup flour, diluted in water
  • 2 eggs, beaten (optional)
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • pinch of saffron threads (optional)
  • salt to taste

Since this recipe requires lots of ingredients, but comes together quickly, prep by mincing, chopping, and measuring everything listed above.  As a time saver, you can use a food processor (I used my little Ninja).  Mince the green chili and garlic together, and the parsley and cilantro together.  Oh, and you can mix all your spices in a bowl (but leave the saffron threads aside).
Now that you have everything prepared and portioned out, the rest is easy.   Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot and add the minced onion.  Salt and cook for a few minutes, until translucent.  Then, add the celery, salt, and cook for a few more minutes. (For a meat version, start by browning your meat on all sides, then removing it from the pan before cooking the onion.  You'll reintroduce the meat later, when adding the stock and water, for it to braise fully.)
Add the green chili, garlic, and half the cilantro and parsley.  Cook for two minutes before adding your mix of spices.  Everything should come together like a paste, but you can add a little water if it needs some moisture.  Once it comes together, add the diced tomato and cook until softened.
Now add the canned tomatoes, stock, water, saffron, and lentils (and meat, if your going that route).  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium low.  Let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked. 
Its time to thicken the soup by adding the tomato paste, chickpeas, orzo, and flour.  Diluting the flour in water ensures that it won't just add clumps, and will evenly thicken the broth.  Pour it in slowly as you stir the pot.
The soup is done once the orzo is cooked through.  I preferred the soup with egg whisked in, and if you want to try that be sure to temper the whisked eggs in separate bowl before slowly pouring it in the pot.  All you need to do is ladle about 1/4 cup of the broth into the bowl of whisked egg continuing to whisk as you do to slowly bringing it to temperature, before adding the egg to the pot.  
Just prior to serving, stir in a bit of the remaining cilantro and parsley mix.


  1. Looks delicious! I think I will attempt this in my brand new crock pot (with some trepidation).

    1. If you're interested in adding meat, doing so in a crock pot would be ideal! The longer you can keep it over low heat once the meat is added back in, the better it will braise and turn out really tender.

      If you want to keep it vegetarian, I'm sure the crock pot will still produce something delicious!

  2. I tried this recipe vegitarian version, even though I am a meat eater and it was out of this world, I did add the eggs as recommended. This is definately a wholesome dish and accommpanied with some thick crusty bread puts it up there as one of my new fab foods.

  3. Soup for breakfast? I have never thought of that! I am more of a sweet breakfast person though... Soup for dinner? YEAH!!!! This one looks delicious .....
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