Soups come, and soups go, but Morocco’s delectable harira soup, both hearty and flavorful, has remained an all-season staple for 100s of years.
There are not many dishes that I consider perfect in terms of texture, taste, nutrition, and ease of preparation. Yet, this age-old soup from Morocco, the timeless harira, comes so close that I never hesitate to serve it to guests, or take a kettle to a pot-luck. Harira is the Moroccan equivalent of chili, but without the meat and without the hot. Different areas of the country will serve their own special harira, but the basics are universal. All require an abundance of fresh tomatoes, onions, and greens.
Chili lovers unpack their kettles in the summer, while Moroccans are likely to serve this national favorite during the holy month of Ramadan or during the winter. For Ramadan, it makes a great beginning to the meal that ends the fast. McDonald’s Morocco even serves harira along with dates in its restaurants as part of the “break-your-fast” meal. In the cold months of December through March, harira is a welcome, warming addition to any meal, but its flavor-filled layers make it an any-day favorite.
Harira contains elements of all the major food groups, barring sweets, blended with the judicious use of fresh spices and greens such as parsley and cilantro.
Vegetarian Version of Harira
This is a “Moroccan version” so you may have to adapt with additional chilis or other spices for an American or European audience, although even Texans have cleaned their bowls at my house and asked for more .
Large pot – 4 quarts ( thick bottom for slow cooking without burning)
- 3 tbs Olive oil
- 1 tbs Cumin
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt (more may be added later, to taste)
- 15 threads of saffron
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp blended spices (ras al hanoot, Monterey Chicken, or other)
- 3 tbs tomato paste
- 1/2 finely chopped parsley
- 1/2 finely chopped cilantro
- 1/3 cup lentils
- 1 can drained garbanzo beans
- 6 medium tomatoes grated
- 1 1/2 onions (can be combination of yellow, red, or sweet and bitter)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup angel hair pasta (broken up into 1 inch pieces or smaller.)
- 1 egg
- 3 – 4 tbs of corn starch
- 4-6 cups of water
Put the olive oil in the bottom of the kettle. Add the spices, the tomato paste, the garbanzo beans, the lentils and 4 cups of water. Turn the heat on to medium.
In a separate pan of boiling water, blanch the tomatoes to release the skins. Then cut them in half and remove the seeds. Put the parsley, tomatoes, onions (cut into chunks), and cilantro into the blender with enough water to allow for blending, about 1-2 cups. Blend until smooth, no chunks visible, but not yet a juice. This is a variation on the methods used by real Moroccans. They grate the onions and the tomatoes by hand. I chose to save my knuckles.
Add the mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to Medium/Low. Soup should continue to boil slightly but not so high it throws splashes of liquid.
Check on the soup after 1/2 hour of simmering. Add water, 1-2 cups. Taste. Adjust spices.
Add the angel hair pasta. Continue to simmer for fifteen minutes.
Prepare corn starch by placing the 3 tablespoons in a glass or bowl (something you can pour from) and adding water to form a smooth thin paste. Take the lid off the pot. Slowly add the corn starch to the soup, stirring constantly until the lentils and garbanzo beans are suspended in the liquid and do not fall immediately to the bottom of the pot. Once that state has been achieved, continue to simmer the corn starch and soup for about five minutes. Turn off the burner
Beat an egg until it is thoroughly mixed. Drizzle it into the soup, stirring slowly to form a kind of lace pattern in the soup. The egg will cook in the heat of the liquid.
Serve with toasted or fresh bread, with mint tea to follow.
Originally published September 17, 2011 with changes made on March 29, 2016.