This traditional dish can be a starter or a meal-in-a-bowl
Harira may be Morocco’s best known soup. This Berber dish is served all over the country—and throughout much of North Africa. Every region has its own unique version. In fact, every family probably has its own unique version.
Although this soup can be enjoyed anytime, it comes into its own during Ramadan (the month of fasting during the Muslim year). In Morocco, many people follow the tradition of breaking their fast at sunset with a bowl of Harira.
Ramadan doesn’t come around until late June this year. But you don’t need to wait until then to sample this healthy and delicious soup. A warming dish like this is perfect for the cold weather many of us are experiencing in the US at the moment. Just think of it as springtime in a bowl.
Recipe: Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)
Although there are countless versions of Harira, virtually all of them include chickpeas; many include lentils as well. Meat of some sort (often lamb) typically forms the basis for a broth, and the soup is always flavored with an enticing array of spices and aromatics.
I lived in Morocco years ago—and had countless bowls of this soup. This recipe captures the traditional flavor of the dish, while also being easy to make.
Prep time for this recipe is about 15 minutes, with cooking time of 45 minutes. So allow an hour. You can easily prepare this soup a day or two ahead and reheat it before serving (the flavor will even improve a bit).
The recipe yields about 2 quarts of soup (but see Notes). Leftovers keep for a few days in the refrigerator if stored in airtight containers. Or they can be frozen for up to six months.
- ~¾ pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (may substitute chicken breasts, although the flavor isn’t as good)
- 1 medium onion (I like to use purple onion, but yellow or white would work well too)
- 1 rib celery
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (may substitute butter; see Notes)
- salt to taste (a few pinches of kosher salt)
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ¾ cup dried lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon dried ginger
- pinch of saffron (optional, but tasty)
- 6+ cups water (see Notes)
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- ½ cup small soup pasta (I like orzo, but any small shape will work; not traditional—see Notes for substitutions)
- additional chopped parsley and/or cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
- a squirt of Sriracha sauce for garnish (optional)
- Dice the chicken thighs into cubes of ½ inch or so. Peel the onion and dice into cubes of about ½ inch. Wash the celery and peel off the strings, then chop the celery roughly into pieces a bit smaller than ½ inch.
- Heat a 4-quart (or larger) soup kettle or Dutch oven on medium heat. When hot, add the oil and let it warm (it’ll shimmer; this takes maybe 15 seconds). Add the diced chicken and season with salt. Sauté for a few minutes until it begins to brown.
- Add the chopped onion and celery. Cook until the onion is soft but not cooked through (about 5 minutes).
- Meanwhile, wash the parsley and cilantro, and chop the leaves until you have 2 tablespoons of each. Set aside. (You may want to chop some extra cilantro or parsley for garnish.)
- Drain the chickpeas into a colander and rinse. Set aside.
- Sort through the lentils, looking for dirt or pebbles. Rinse and set aside.
- By this point, the onion should be soft. Add the cinnamon, turmeric, dried ginger, and saffron (if using) to the chicken and onion mixture. Stir briefly to incorporate.
- Add the water and the diced tomatoes. Add the chickpeas and lentils. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then set a timer for 30 minutes.
- At the 30-minute mark, taste the soup and add salt if necessary. Take a look at the liquid level, and add a bit if necessary. Add the pasta, stir, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir from time to time so the pasta doesn’t settle on the bottom and stick.
- When ready to serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with chopped parsley and/or cilantro, if desired. I usually put a bottle of Sriracha sauce on the table so people can add a squirt or two for a bit of heat (see Notes).
- If you were making this soup in Morocco, you’d probably use a fermented butter called smen for browning the meat, onions, and celery in Steps 2 and 3. Smen is somewhat similar to Indian ghee (which you could use as a substitute ingredient). But olive oil is also widely used in Moroccan cooking—and easier for cooks in the West to obtain.
- BTW, smen develops more flavor as it ages (like some wines). If people can afford to, they often allow it to age for years before using it.
- Although there’s meat in this dish, it’s more a seasoning than a significant ingredient. Recipes for Harira most often feature lamb, though chicken and beef are often used too.
- That said, if you want to make a vegetarian version of this soup, it’s easy enough to skip the meat and use vegetable stock.
- How much water to use in this dish is a bit of a judgment call. It depends in part on how thick you want the soup to be. As written, the recipe produces soup with a fairly thick consistency, so you may want to dilute it. Of course, your yield amount for this recipe will depend on how much liquid you end up using.
- Real saffron is ideal for this dish (though in much of Morocco, people commonly use the artificial stuff). You can leave this ingredient out if you wish, though it does add a nice undertone.
- I like to finish this soup with a dried pasta, such as orzo. A more traditional shape would be vermicelli broken into small pieces. Or you can used cooked rice (adding it to the soup at the last minute).
- Traditionally, Harira is thickened with a mixture of flour and water (used instead of, or in addition to, dried pasta). If you’d like to try this, just mix 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Then add this mixture to the soup about 5 minutes before serving.
- In parts of Morocco, the flour-and-water thickener is mixed a day ahead of time. This allows the mixture to acquire an interesting flavor that’s almost yeast-like. In fact, I suspect that some wild airborne yeast cells do settle on the mixture and begin fermenting.
- Some cooks like to add an egg or two to Harira shortly before serving it (the eggs cook to the consistency of those found in Hot and Sour Soup or Egg Drop soup).
- Some recipes also call for adding lemon juice right at the end. This provides a nice sharp note, and is worth experimenting with.
- Sriracha sauce would not be used in Morocco. Instead, people would use harissa—a flavorful sauce made from hot chiles. You can buy commercially prepared harissa (or make your own). But since Sriracha is a pretty common pantry staple these days, that’s what I specify for this dish. Its flavor is different from that of harissa, but it works well.
- Although Harira commonly is served as a starter dish, it’s hearty enough for a main course. Just add a salad and/or some bread, and you’re good to go.
Think of it as Moroccan Chicken Soup
“Brrr,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Did you see the weather forecast? We’re supposed to get nearly a foot of snow!”
“Yikes!” I replied. “Sounds like we’ll have some shoveling to do.”
“We’ll be cold and hungry when we’re finished,” said Mrs K R. “Lucky we have some of that great Moroccan Chickpea Soup in the freezer.”
“Yeah, Harira has such an interesting flavor,” I said. “And it’ll warm us up.”
“Good thing, too. It’s supposed to get down to -7°F,” said Mrs K R. “Or even lower. Coldest it’s been in 20 years or so.”
“Maybe we should have the soup before we shovel snow,” I said. “So at least we’ll start out nice and warm.”
“Yeah, and garnish it with ibuprofen,” said Mrs K R. “Sriracha is tastier, but Vitamin I is probably more effective.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Moroccan Orange and Radish Salad
Winter Squash and Bacon Chowder
Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn
Kale, Quinoa, and White Bean Soup
Lentil and Tomato Soup
Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup
Easy Lentil Soup
White Bean and Potato Soup
Or check out the index for more recipes