Sunday, January 5, 2014

Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) in white bowl, overhead view on black

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.


Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) in white bowl, with spoon and napkin in background

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.

Ingredients
  • ~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)
Procedure
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Add the chopped onion and celery. Cook until the onion is soft but not cooked through (about 5 minutes).
  4. 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.)
  5. Drain the chickpeas into a colander and rinse. Set aside.
  6. Sort through the lentils, looking for dirt or pebbles. Rinse and set aside.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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).
Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) in white bowl, with spoon and napkin in background

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.
Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) in white bowl, with spoon and napkin in background

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

98 comments:

  1. Hi John , my kinda comfort food , love all the ingredients and yes I will add a little heat . Careful shoveling that snow , get a bowl of soup and relax . Thanks so much for sharing , I am looking for to spending a great year at Kitchen Riffs :)

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    1. Hi Nee, it really looks like we're going to get a foot or more. :-( We may need to shovel twice! Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Beautiful colors in this soup. It would certainly brighten up the table and spirits on a cold winter's day.

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    1. Hi Karen, it tastes even better than it looks! Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I've always wanted to travel to Morocco - how exciting it must have been to live there! Beautiful soup :)

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    1. Hi Alyssa, I loved living in Morocco, although it's changed quite a bit since I was there (this was decades ago!). Great culture and wonderful food, which I'm sure is still the same. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. I tried making harira a few months ago but was disappointed with the results. Your recipe looks so much better! Happy shovelling to you - I'll probably be out in my driveway, too.

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    1. Hi Beth, I've had some pretty bad versions of harira. The biggest problem with some recipes is they have so many competing flavors the final flavor is kinda "muddy." Doesn't taste like mud, of course, but just kind of blah. Just about to head out to do a round of shoveling! Thanks for the comment.

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  5. What an interesting place to have live. Years ago my mother took a tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco and talked more about Morocco than any of the other places. She loved it! From the weather I see y'all are having today, this is the perfect soup to be dishing up! Along with the heartiness of the soup itself, the flavors from the spices sound spicy delicious! Another great Moroccan recipe John! Thanks!

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    1. Hi MJ, we're really getting hit with snow - unusual for us (we always get some each winter, but not a blizzard like this). Morocco is a great place - worth a visit sometime. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. Ah, another chickpea soup today! :) I am all over this. Sounds delicious. Stay warm and cozy today.

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    1. Hi Debra, one can never have too many chickpea soup recipes! ;-) This is really worth trying. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Yes, thanks for reminding me that Ramadan is in June this year, right in the middle of summer break. Oh well, at least people will be deterred from visiting me! Your harira is gorgeous, I had many a bowl last Ramadan since we have quite a large Moroccan and Algerian community here. My close friends here are actually Moroccan and Algerian. You are right, each one has their way of making harira. I think I prefer yours, they use lamb. Yours is also very fresh and vibrant looking. Beautiful. Keep warm, John, we're just done with our storm and I think it's headed your way. Oh, and you and Mrs Riffs are always welcome in Denver! Pay us a visit soon!

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    1. Hi Nazneen, lamb is good, but I think the flavor of chicken is better. Just came in from our first round of shoveling snow. There was over an inch of new snow on the parts that we started shoveling first! Thanks for the comment.

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  8. Perfect! This time of year, in my state? Oh you bet, perfect.
    This is the kind of soup, that, like a good whiskey, goes right to your bones and warms em right up!

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    1. Hi Dawn, yeah, this is great cold weather soup! And it does really warm you. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  9. That's the soup for me. I love Moroccan food with all the exuberance of its flavors.

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    1. Hi Denise, isn't Moroccan food good? Love the spices! Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Terriffic post. I love Moroccan food, myself, yet never have made it. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Hi Dan, Moroccan food is tasty! This one is well worth the effort - perfect for the cold weather. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. I am so into soups these days. This looks so comforting and delicious!

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    1. Hi Asmita, it really is good stuff! As you say, very comforting. Thanks for the comment.

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  12. Oh John, this soup look delicious...like the cinnamon, turmeric and ginger in it...is sure look colorful, and yes, I would love to have this bowl as a meal.
    Hope you are enjoying your weekend and have a great week ahead :D

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    1. Hi Juliana, it really is delish. I totally love this! Thanks for the comment.

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  13. WOW! It does look like Sping in a bowl and I can just imagine the medley of flavors with the cilantro, cinnamon, and saffron!

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    1. Hi Peachy, isn't this nice? The spices make this so flavorful! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. Oh John....I really could have used this soup this weekend! We've had snow here in D.C. and the low temps tomorrow are going to be 2 degrees! Yikes. Actually, I love soup all year round. And I adore Moroccan cuisine. So envious that you lived there. It's definitely a place I'd love to visit. I'll just have to live a little of it through this beautiful soup. Thanks for such a great recipe. Stay warm and keep taking that vitamin I ! : )

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    1. Hi Anne, it's cold cold cold here! Loads of snow - something warming is definitely in order. That vitamin I is good stuff! Thanks for the comment.

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  15. I made soup yesterday! This sounds like a Middle Eastern vegetable soup. I've always wanted to make it, so thanks for shooting it this way! Looks like it has a ton of flavor!

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    1. Hi Abbe, my impression is a lot of North African food is quite similar to Middle Eastern. This is a wonderful soup, and really worth making IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  16. That looks like a great soup for winter and it's so colourful. I love Moroccan food so I am sure it would taste good.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, Moroccan food is really tasty, isn't it? This soup sure is! Thanks for the comment.

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  17. That would be a meal in a bowl for me. It looks delicious and perfect for warming the bones before and after snow shoveling. Shoveling is now in my past and I don't miss it. :)

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    1. Hi Maureen, when we lived in Florida we thought snow shoveling was behind us, too! Never thought we'd live in a cold climate again. We actually enjoy the cold weather, but could do without the snow. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  18. Wow, you've lived in Morocco, which part? It's one of the places we're considering for a short break this year, but it has changed quite a bit in recent years. I love their cuisine though, this looks wonderful, cheers!

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    1. Hi Gintare, I was in Fez (and also spent a bit of time in Meknes and Tangiers). And yes, it's changed from what I understand. Lovely place to visit, though. Thanks for the comment.

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  19. I've never had Moroccan Chickpea Soup, but I like all the ingredients and the color is quite appealing, so I guess it's time to try it!

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    1. Hi Judy, definitely worth a try! The spices give it such an interesting flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Arthur, it definitely is! Thanks for the comment.

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  21. As if I needed to be sold on this comforting soup, saying it's like spring did it! I've always wanted to try cooking with saffron too. It'll be awhile until I can dig out and get to the store though :(

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    1. Hi Laura, this does warm you up like springtime! Saffron is so nice - well worth playing with. Thanks for the comment.

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  22. Vitamin I, I LOVE it!!! Although, I try to stay away from the stuff whenever possible, lol...I was actually here yesterday John and saw your hearty soup. I had to run in the midst of my visit but I knew I was going to have to come back for the lo down. It sounds delicious and although I wouldn't heat it up for Marion, my portion will definitely get more heat. Thankfully, our snow has been rained away but Brrrrr....it's cold outside! Thank you so much for sharing, John...

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    1. Hi Louise, just got in from round 2 of shoveling! We did a lot yesterday, but it was still snowing. Thus we had to redo some of yesterday's work (plus a bit we didn't get around to), but it was much easier because it was only a few inches rather than the 8+ we dealt with yesterday. And had some Moroccan leftovers for lunch. Not this soup (all gone) but what will be on the blog next week. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  23. After hearing the weather forecast for many regions of the US, this is the perfect comfort dish!
    Hearty and amazing looking, love the beautiful colors too.
    Thanks for sharing, John!

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    1. Hi Daniela, I really like food to look colorful, so I do think about that when cooking. The weather has been really awful the last few days. But at least the snow is over. For now. ;-( Thanks for the comment.

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  24. Ryan and I dream of going to Morocco. We don't have the money now so maybe we should transport ourselves with this beautiful soup! Thank you for sharing John!

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    1. Hi Monet, Morocco is a fun place! Great foods, loads of interesting scenery. I haven't been there for years and years, but would love to go back sometime. Thanks for the comment.

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  25. I'll have a big bowl for dinner tonight, please! It sounds scrumptious!!! It looks like our snow is heading your way...hopefully not the subzero temps, too.

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    1. Hi Liz, alas, we have subzero temps - high today isn't supposed to reach zero! Be nicer in a few days, though. This is great cold weather fare! Thanks for the comment.

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  26. Smen. It doesn't sound delicious but I am intrigued. Can you make it yourself (like ghee)? GREG

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    1. Hi Greg, you can absolutely make it yourself - it's essentially ghee, with salt added. I'm not sure if the aged stuff is made the same way (I think it is), but the sort of smen most people use every day is quite easy to make. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Wonderful flavor combination. Looks so vibrant and colorful, I expect nothing less from Moroccan cuisine :) I will add this to the list in the coming week as it is exceptionally cold and we can always use more soup! Stay warm and safe in this weather.

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    1. Hi Ilke, this really does have great flavor. And it's so perfect for cold weather - really warms you up. Thanks for the comment.

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  28. What a unique and wonderful sounding soup. I be the house smells amazing as it cooks!

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    1. Hi Chris, this really is a fragrant soup! Delish, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  29. One of my favorite cuisines!Aromatic, delicious and nourishing. The soup looks awesome!

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    1. Hi Ansh, isn't Moroccan food wonderful? And this soup really is excellent! Thanks for the comment.

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  30. This hearty soup looks amazing. I love all the warming spices. This is definitely getting pinned to my must make list.

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    1. Hi Kristi, isn't this a fun soup? The spices are wonderful! Thanks for the comment (and pin!).

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  31. a soul warming and hearty chickpea stew...love the colors and spiced flavors of this dish....just so perfect served for supper...we won't hesitate going for seconds,thanks so much for sharing :-)

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    1. Hi Kumar, seconds are mandatory with this dish! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  32. Great soup - it looks very hearty and flavorful. I love Moroccan flavors! Perfect for the sub-zero temps we are having right now :-)

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    1. Hi Amy, we had subzero yesterday but are all the way up to 11F today! Heat wave! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  33. I am going to make this soup pronto. I love the colors, and I have ghee AND Harissa :D I would also do the broken vermicelli. Thanks so much John for posting this wonderful soup recipe....if only I could use one whole bowl now.....

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    1. Hi Minnie, the broken vermicelli is a great way to go. And harissa is so wonderful, isn't it? Love it's spicy flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  34. John, this looks and sounds like a delightful soup - and that is something we need around here these days because it is cold, cold cold! Definitely soup weather and this one will get a try later in the week I think - thanks!

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    1. Hi Donalyn, although I could do without the cold, it does make one appreciate soup so much. And I love soup! Thanks for the comment.

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  35. So glad you didn't wait till June to post this soup! With the chickpeas, chicken and lentils, and all those spices it sounds fabulous!

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    1. Hi Shashi, this is really good. It has a flavor that's a bit different from other soups, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. What a colourful soup and I bet its really wholesome. It will definitely be worth trying when the weather cools here a little. Hope you had a Happy New Year John.

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    1. Hi Liz, you're right that you'll enjoy this more when your fall arrives! Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  37. In the winter, there's nothing better than a big bowl of veggie soup. The Moroccan flavors of this one have me salivating, too. Can't wait to try it.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, isn't soup almost a necessity of life when the weather turns cold? And the flavors of this one are terrific! Thanks for the comment.

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  38. I really wish I had some of this Harira already made for me right now for dinner! It looks so good! Great recipe, thanks

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    1. Hi Kristi, this makes such a great dinner! We love it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  39. This sounds delicious. I was a little surprised to see the cinnamon and ginger in the ingredients, but I bet they add wonderful flavor to this soup.

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    1. Hi Dawn, I love the spices used in Moroccan cooking - so many that we tend to use only in sweet, not savory, dishes. And they works so well! Thanks for the comment.

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  40. Hi John,

    I can imagine living in Morocco must be giving you a lot of knowledge with their food and culture. This is why you are cooking your harira so well... I see lots of warmth and comfort in this soup.

    Zoe

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    1. Hi Zoe, that was a really fun experience! And I did learn a lot about the food. And great dishes like this! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  41. It's been super chilly here. A bowl of this is just what I need. Gorgeous photos John. Thanks for sharing. Have a great week!

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    1. Hi Anne, this soup definitely would fit the bill! Great for cold weather. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  42. Beautiful: love vegetable-filled, spiced dishes like this in the cold midwinter. Takes the edge off the snow and the temperature, for sure. Great post.

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    1. Hi Shannon, with the weather we've had, we need kettles full of this soup! Thanks for the comment.

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  43. How I wish I could grab that bowl of goodness. I looks amazing and I am sure tastes great.

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    1. Hi easyfoodsmith, it really does have wonderful flavor. It snowed again last night, so maybe I should make some more! Thanks for the comment.

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  44. I love the colors and flavors you incorporated into the soup. The soup looks terrific and apt for this chilly weather.

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    1. Hi Shibi, I like color (and flavor!), so I do like food to look colorful. Thanks for the comment.

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  45. I'm really enjoying your soup posts and printed off some of your soup recipes for this and next week! ;) I love coming home to have soup for dinner - such a comforting feeling!

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    1. Hi Nami, we eat soup for dinner all the time! Such good stuff. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  46. Nice to get warm in this cold cold weather. I love the variety of colours and ingredients. So rich. Portuguese soups are mostly seasoned with salt and olive oil so it's nice to get things a bit more spicier.

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    1. Hi Alex, isn't this a nice soup? And so flavorful - really good for cold weather. Thanks for the comment.

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  47. I love the colors and flavors in this comfort soup.. it would be so warming with all our snow! It would be a bowl of spring on these cold nights of ours!!

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    1. Hi Barbara, this is really excellent cold weather fare. Perfect for snowy days. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  48. I live cous cous! So easy to use and add delicious flavours to. I would like to try it withe soaked dried fruits Yum!

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    1. Hi Julie, isn't couscous great stuff? We don't use it nearly as often as we should! (And I assume you meant to reply to the Couscous with Dried Fruit post!) Thanks for the comment.

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  49. Hi John, wow ... another appetizing soup. Look extremely good and full of wonderful ingredients. Great recipe, thanks for sharing.

    Have a nice day.

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    1. Hi Amelia, this soup is killer. Really worth making. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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