Harira – The Traditional Moroccan Soup
As both a starting point and a destination for merchants along ancient trade routes Morocco developed a cuisine that has Arabic, African, French, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern influences. This blending of cultures and ideas makes Moroccan cuisine unique and often quite surprising. Extensive use of dried fruits such as dates and figs, preserved lemons, nuts, and the blending of fresh herbs and spices gives Moroccan cuisine its distinctive, and delicious, taste.
Harira is the famous soup of Morocco that is traditionally served during Ramadan at sunset to break the daylight fast. While every family has its own recipe with slight variations the traditional Harira is a tomato based soup with lamb, chickpeas, lentils, and pasta, infused with the flavors of lemon, cinnamon, cilantro, parsley, saffron, and ginger, and thickened with flour and egg. The soup is traditionally served with a lemon slice and crusty bread, a small bowl of lemon juice for those who prefer their soup with a little extra, and a plate of figs which are also traditionally served to break fast during Ramadan.
While traditionally only served during Ramadan or at weddings Harira is a Moroccan favorite that is hearty enough to be served as a meal on a cold winter’s night, find the recipe below and don’t forget the crusty bread!
- ½ lb. uncooked meat (lamb, beef or chicken), chopped into 1/2” pieces
- several soup bones (optional)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 bunch cilantro (coriander), finely chopped to yield about 1/4 cup
- 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped to yield about 1/4 cup
- 1 or 2 celery stalks with leaves, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, grated
- 1 can of chick peas
- 1 tablespoon smen (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon turmeric or ¼ teaspoon yellow colorant
- 6 large tomatoes (about 2 lb. or 1 kg), peeled, seeded and pureed
- 2 to 3 tbsp lentils
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste, mixed evenly into 1 or 2 cups of water
- 2 to 3 tablespoons uncooked broken vermicelli
- 1 cup flour
Step 1 – Ahead of Time
- Peel, seed and puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Or, stew the tomatoes and pass them through a food mill to remove the seeds and skin.
- Pick the parsley and cilantro leaves from their stems. Small pieces of stem are OK, but discard long, thick pieces with no leaves. Wash the herbs, drain well, and finely chop them by hand or with a food processor.
Assemble the remaining ingredients and follow the steps below.
Step 2 – Brown the Meat
Put the meat, soup bones and oil into a 6-qt. or larger pressure cooker. Over medium heat, cook the meat for a few minutes, stirring to brown all sides.
Step 3 – Make the Stock
Add the cilantro, parsley, celery, onion, chick peas, tomatoes, smen and spices. Stir in 3 cups of water.
Cover tightly, and heat over high heat until pressure is achieved. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and release the pressure.
Step 4 – Make the Soup
Add the lentils, tomato paste mixture, and 2 quarts (or about 2 liters) of water to the stock.
Set aside (but don’t add yet), the vermicelli.
Cover the pot and heat the soup over high heat until pressure is achieved. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking.
Adding vermicelli: Cook the soup on pressure for 45 minutes. Release the pressure, and add the vermicelli. Simmer the soup, uncovered, for five to ten minutes or until the vermicelli is plump and cooked.
Step 5 – Thicken the Soup
While the soup is cooking, mix together the 1 cup of flour with 2 cups of water. Set the mixture aside.
Stir or whisk the mixture occasionally. The flour will eventually blend with the water. If the mixture is not smooth when you’re ready to use it, pass it through a sieve to remove balls.
Once the vermicelli has cooked, taste the soup for seasoning. Add salt or pepper if desired.
Bring the soup to a full simmer. Slowly — and in a thin stream — pour in the flour mixture. Stir constantly and keep the soup simmering so the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom.
You will notice the soup beginning to thicken when you’ve used approximately half the flour mixture. How thick to make harira is your own preference. I like to thicken the broth so that it achieves a cream-like consistency.
Simmer the thickened soup, stirring occasionally, for five to ten minutes to cook off the taste of the flour. Remove the soup from the heat.
Serves 6 to 8.