Harira- Moroccan Lentil and Chickpea Soup

by Sarah on January 19, 2010

This lemony soup from Morocco and Algeria is often eaten during Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims who observe a daily fast, eating only before daybreak and after sunset. For Algerian and Moroccan Jews it is also customary to serve harira after the Yom Kippur fast.

However, I didn’t make it either for Ramadan or for Yom Yippur because it was cranky hot during that time and not ideal for serving a steaming hot bowl of soup. The date of Yom Yippur shifts slightly each year but is always during September and October which are still very hot months in Israel. Ramadan, however migrates throughout the seasons according to the lunar calendar so the next couple of years it will be in the middle of the stifling heat of the summer except if you live in the southern hemisphere. Observing Ramadan in the summer however has a certain amount of poignancy because the meaning stems from the word for extreme heat.

This soup has a deep, rich, satisfying flavor which is uplifted by the herbs and lemon juice.  However, my boys refused to eat it after tasting it (too lemony, they said) leaving me with enough to open a soup kitchen. Even after eating it for three consecutive days I still think it is the best soup in the world (but perhaps not after the forth).

Harira (מרק חרירה)

Harira means silk, perhaps alluding to the smooth consistency of the soup after the flour is added to it. I use beef but if lamb is available that would be more traditional.

Stock

500 beef, cut into chunks (chose neck or shank)

500 grams marrow bones

3 carrots, chopped into 2-3 pieces each

1 onion, peeled

2-3 whole allspice

2 bay leaves

Soup

400 kg beef, without fat, cubed

1 cup brown lentils

1 cup chickpeas, covered with water and soaked overnight

2 cups finely chopped tomatoes (I liquified it in the food processor)

½ cup flour

½ cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

2 liters of beef stock, adjust as necessary for a thick soup

1 cup thin noodles, cooked separately

1 chopped celery root, chopped into small pieces (bruinoise)

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 bunch coriander, chopped

½ teaspoons turmeric

Salt and pepper

Make the stock

Cover the bones and beef with water and simmer for 12 hours. Skim the scum and don’t let it come to a boil otherwise the fat will become emulsified in the soup. Let cool, strain, discarding the bones and meat, they have lost much of their flavor at this point. Place the stock in the refrigerator. When the stock cools completely remove the fat that has congealed above (in my case 1/4 of the stock was fat). I don’t add vegetables at this stage because the flavor will become dull after cooking for so long.

Soak the chickpeas overnight in pure water. Rinse the chickpeas and add them to a pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until chickpeas are soft but not falling apart. Drain, set aside.

In a small pot, cover lentils with water and cook until soft. This should take about 20-30 minutes. Drain and set aside. I cook the legumes separately to assure they are cooked properly.

Reheat the pot of stock. Add the carrots, the cubed meat, onion, allspice, bay leaves and spices. Simmer for 1 hour. Add the celery, chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes and cook for another 20 minutes. It is possible to remove the carrots and onions if you want the soup to be homogenous (I left them in). Add the lemon juice. Mix the flour in 1 cup of cold water to create a smooth liquid.* Add it to the pot while continually mixing to avoid lumps. Add the chopped coriander and parsley and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.  I cooked the noodles separately and added them to each bowl so they do not disintegrate in the soup.

*In her book, Couscous and other Good Foods from Morocco, Paula Wolfert writes that the flour-water mixture would be prepared a day in advance in Marrakesh, so it would ferment slightly and impart a distinctive flavor to the soup. Here is another look at Harira soup from someone who lives in Morocco.

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