Harira soup may unofficially be Morocco’s national dish, but it is during Ramadan that it becomes an absolute staple, consumed every day at iftar across north Africa. Representative of the many influences that have colored Moroccan cuisine, the richly flavored, layered soup has now spread in popularity as a Ramadan essential across the Islamic world.
With lentils, meat, and noodles all combined into a slow-cooked tomato broth in which a variety of spices and fresh herbs add punch, this nutritious and delicious dish is as good as a complete meal, and therefore a no-brainer for breaking the fast.
“I was introduced to harira by a Moroccan friend, and I immediately fell in love with it,” reveals Sawsan Abu Farha, a Palestinian blogger who specializes in Middle Eastern food. “For me, harira is ideal especially after a long fast such as what we have in these summer days. It is traditionally served with dates at the start of the iftar meal and to be honest, it is so satisfying, you hardly need anything else.”
The thick, hearty soup usually includes chickpeas, lentils, lamb or any other type of meat – but used in smaller quantities than a typical meat-based soup, more as a flavoring agent – plus rice noodles, and an array of aromatic herbs including lemon, cinnamon, cilantro, parsley, saffron, and ginger. While this is the base, there is no fixed recipe, as every region and indeed, every household, has its own version, with variations including the addition of herbs such as caraway, and different choices of meat and legumes.
The one thing that is consistent perhaps is the silky, nuanced texture; the name of the dish literally translates into ‘smooth’ in Arabic.
For something so rich in taste, harira soup is extremely nutrient dense too. “Harira is the perfect way to provide your body with many of the nutrients you need in an easy-to-digest and to absorb form,” says Sawsan. “It contains low GI lentils and chickpeas, protein for satiety, antioxidant-rich tomato and stimulating spices - everything you need at the end of your fast.”
So, for your next iftar meal, prepare this hearty wholesome soup using Sawsan’s vegetarian recipe. Just don’t let the long ingredient list scare you off, it is easy to prepare, and well worth the effort!
Harira soup (serves 8, can be halved in quantity)
• 2 onions, grated
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 3 celery sticks
• 1 tsp salt (to be adjusted during cooking)
• 1/2 tsp black pepper
• 1 cup of lentils (soaked in water for 1 hour)
• 1 kg ripe tomatoes
• 7 cups water or chicken stock
• 1 cup parsley, finely chopped
• 1 cup of canned chickpeas (or 1 cup of dry chickpeas soaked in water overnight)
• 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
• 1 tbsp caraway seeds
• 1 clove garlic
• 1/2 cup coriander leaves
1. On medium heat, add the olive oil, grated onion, and celery into a pot. Saute for 3 minutes.
2. Add the lentils and add 1 liter (4 cups) of water. Increase the heat to medium-high, cover the pot, and cook for 30 minutes.
3. In a food processor, add the tomatoes and the remaining 3 cups of water and process until smooth. Add to the pot.
4. Lower the heat to medium and cook the soup, covered, for 10 minutes.
5. Add the canned chickpeas and the parsley, cook for another 15 minutes.
6. Mix 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour in some water until all the flour is dissolved. Add the flour mixture to the soup, while stirring continuously, until the soup thickens. You may not need to use all the flour mixture, so add it little by little. Cook the soup for another 2-3 minutes.
7. Place the coriander, caraway seeds and garlic in a mortar and grind them into a paste, add to the soup just before serving. Serve hot.