Harira: The Traditional (and Yummy!) Soup of Morocco
Harira is the traditional soup of Morocco and is always served at special occasions. As my family did, each family has their own unique way of making Harira. Take my recipe and make it your own to carry on the tradition of Harira for your family.
Every year my family celebrated the holy month of Ramadan. Most people know Ramadan as a month of fasting, when Muslims abstain from food, drink, intimacy, smoking, and other vices between sunrise until sunset. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity. While fasting is an important part of Ramadan, there is much more to this holy month. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.
In Morocco, families and friends come together to reconnect during Ramadan. It may sound ironic during a period of fasting, but Moroccan families look forward to Ramadan as a time to prepare special and sometimes elaborate meals—called Iftar—to break the fast. The traditional way to break the fast on Morocco is to eat a date and then have harira, the traditional soup of Morocco. Every family has its own recipe for harira, and, of course, their recipe is better than every other family’s. Not only is harira served to break the fast at every Iftar meal, it is also served on other special occasions including weddings. Everyone looks forward to the Iftar meal—even children who are not required to fast are excited and full of anticipation. As a child, I was no exception.
Every year, a few days before Ramadan, my grandmother and mother would begin making all of the preparations. One reason was that many of the local shops and markets would be closed for the day during Ramadan and the other reason was that, because of fasting, people were just too tired to even think about shopping. So, my mother and grandmother would go off to buy bags and bags of fresh spices such as ginger, cumin, paprika, and black pepper. They would bring them home, grind the spices, and tuck them safely away. Since tomatoes are one of the key ingredients in Harira, my family would buy over fifty pounds of tomatoes at the beginning of Ramadan! My grandmother would first boil them, put them through a food mill (the kind that used elbow power), and manually strained them. She would pour the tomato sauce into one liter bottles and then put olive oil on top to keep it from spoiling. I was always amazed when the huge bags of tomatoes were brought in. One year, as I picked up one tomato after another to examine them, my grandmother told me that the tomato sauce is what made harira so silky smooth. Years later I learned that harira is a derivative of the word harir, which means silk.
I was always eager to help my grandmother and mother make the harira. My chore was to remove the skin from the chickpeas that had been left soaking overnight. It wasn’t the most exciting chore, but it gave me an opportunity to keep an eye on everything that was going on without being chased out of the kitchen. As I went about working on the chickpeas, I would watch my mother would cut the lamb into cubes and save the bones for the soup. She would dice and mince fresh parsley, cilantro, celery, and minced onions. Then came the spices of saffron, ginger, paprika, salt, and black pepper. Then she would fill a pot with water and cook everything slowly until the lamb was cooked. Just an hour before the Iftar, she would add about a half cup of rice and lentils, and at least a cup of the homemade tomato sauce and little bit of mixture of water and flour for thickening. My chore then was to stir the harira and she made sure that I did my chore well be warning me that if I didn’t stir it well, everything would stick to the bottom of the pot and the harira would be ruined. I certainly did not want that to happen!
When the harira was ready, my mother would transfer it to a nice soup pot which had matching bowls. Once it was time, everyone would hurry to get their bowl of harira. It is hard to describe the aroma and taste of this hearty soup that not only satisfies the hunger and restores energy but also keeps the Moroccan family tradition alive. I encourage you to try this simple yet soulful soup. Make it your own recipe and your own tradition for special family occasions.
- 1/2 pound lamb meat, cubed, with bones
- 5 - 6 strands of saffron
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon of caraway powder
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cup chopped celery stalks
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 7 cups water
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup lentils
- 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
- 1/2 cup uncooked rice
- In a food processor chop the onion, celery, parsley, and cilantro until very fine.
- Place the lamb, saffron, paprika, black pepper, ginger, salt, butter, onion, celery, parsley, cilantro, chickpeas, and water into a large soup pot over a low heat. Stir until ingredients are blended.
- Cook for 2 hrs or until the lamb is done.
- When the lamb is done, add the tomato sauce, caraway powder, rice, and lentils.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Mix flour in 1cup of water and then add to the soup. Stir frequently to ovoid clumps.