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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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

lisaiscooking January 19, 2010 at 2:30 pm

The mix of lentils, chickpeas, and thin noodles looks fantastic!

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heidileon January 20, 2010 at 1:56 am

1. your boys need to learn so much (yet) nothing can be too lemony!..never. :-D
2. I love what harira means!. Silk…wow.
3. If I try to make a vegetarian choice. Do you think it will turn out good enough?

xo

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Sarah January 20, 2010 at 2:13 am

here is a link to an interesting article and a vegetarian harira recipe, it looks very good to me http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10017/1028362-34.stm

my boys didn’t eat the soup but overall they are pretty good about trying and eating all kinds of things. If there is one rule in my house, it’s this- they must try everything at least once. I don’t have any patience for picky eaters :-)

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Margit January 20, 2010 at 2:06 am

So interesting! Would be fascinating to know something about the history of this soup – I mean why those particular ingredients at such an important religious milestone? There’s often quite a scientific explanation – maybe it was just a quick way to stock up on calories and nutrients again?

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Christine January 20, 2010 at 2:57 am

I don’t recall learning of any religious symbolism in the ingredients, but harira is a particularly satisfying soup after a day of fasting. It’s typically accompanied by dates, traditionally used worldwide by Muslims to break the fast, as well as a honey-drenched cookie called chebakia.

The dried beans in harira are affordable, filling and nutritional — perfect when needing to feed large families who are fasting. I was taught to make harira with a minimal amount of meat; most modern recipes use way more than what I see my in-laws and other Moroccans adding to the pot.

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Sarah January 20, 2010 at 3:15 am

thank you Christine, I will try using less meat and more spices next time I make it, like your version. I know that noodles in Iran symbolizes the thread of life and fertility but not sure it applies here.

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Madame Sucre January 20, 2010 at 3:20 am

I made harira two days ago for a moroccan inspired dinner party and it was delicious!! I never tried it before LOL

but I also think the ingredients dont really have a religious value.. except that theya re very satisfying and balance the body with nutrition after a whole day of fasting .. you get proteins from the lentils and the meat , carbs from the noodles , vitamins from the tomatoes.. wow it is one rich dish!

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Christine January 20, 2010 at 9:00 am

We don’t typically add long noodles in Morocco…it’s either broken vermicelli or rice. They sell the vermicelli already broken up here, and it’s also used to make a sweetened steamed pasta dish called siffa.

One sister-in-law also insists that harira be made with either lentils or chick peas, not both, but she’s the only one I know who says so. Her version is very light, while I make a heartier harira.

I like to go a bit heavy on the tomatoes, which means there’s already a mildly sour quality to the soup, so I don’t bother with lemon juice. I’ll add a little only if it seems like “something’s missing.” My harira also looks a bit redder than some others’ because of all the tomatoes. Once my husband’s aunt popped in for a several day visit during Ramadan, and she couldn’t believe my harira kept well for three days in the fridge. She seemed perplexed because, according to her, “red hariras” (meaning heavy on the tomatoes) usually turn bad. Truth or fiction, I don’t know.

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Sarah January 20, 2010 at 9:10 am

I knew long noodles were not typically used but that is all I had in the house at the time, spaghettini, which I broke in not small enough pieces. I noticed that some hariras are much redder than others, like yours for instance and I see its a personal preference. Wish you lived closer, I would pop over for a bowl.

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Zahavah January 20, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I just had harira (vegetarian) for lunch. One of my favorite soups — thanks for the recipe.

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Yael January 20, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Almost missed this post because i was so out the past couple of days. It look like a very good thing in this current weather. too bad this dish has such an ugly name.

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Fun Joel January 25, 2010 at 3:23 am

Love Harira, and this looks like a great recipe. A few interesting elements that I didn’t know were in there. Have you tried with the fermented flour mixture ever?

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Sarah January 25, 2010 at 3:38 am

never tried the fermented flour mixture and don’t know anybody who does that anymore. Romanians also have a similar addition to their Chorba (soup) where they use some sort of fermented wheat bran. I tried doing that but discarded it as it was very stinky.

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ilan June 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

Can the meat based stock be swapped for something vegetarian or vegan? What would you suggest?

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Sarah June 19, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Ilan, I think vegetable stock with a caramelized onion base would work well with this recipe if you’re looking for a vegetarian alternative

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