Moroccan Harira


Harira is a traditional hearty Moroccan stew typically served during the holy month of Ramadan.  During the ninth month of the Islamic year, it’s forbidden to eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. A cannon, fired at sunset, marks the end of the day’s fast and families sit down for the Iftar, or the evening meal that breaks the fast.   In Morocco, harira is the dish served for Iftar and it’s made in large batches to serve many people.  Dried fruits such as dates, sweets, and other small bites are traditional accompaniments.

The observance of Ramadan is guided by the lunar calendar.  Each year the holy month begins on an earlier date than the year before.  In 2014, the month of prayer and fasting will begin on June 28th and end on July 27th.  Last year, Ramadan began on July 8 and in 2015, observance will begin on June 18.  The use of the lunar calendar means that Ramadan eventually takes place during every season and consequently, the ingredients of harira change to reflect the season in which it is being made.

Like an Indian Curry or a Southern BBQ rub, Moroccan hariras are unique to different regions and among households.  Every cook has their own variation although traditionally, hariras will contain rice, lentils, chickpeas, and tomatoes or some combination of the above.   They can be vegetarian or may contain small bits of lamb, beef, chicken or fish.  They are sometimes thickened with fine ground flour although lightly beaten eggs also serve this purpose.   Fresh herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, are always added.

The recipe found below is my variation of a traditional harira.  It’s an adaptation  from a recipe for Lentil, Chickpea and Rice Stew in Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook although the addition of paprika, kale, and brown rice among other changes make it uniquely my own.  While Ramadan is months away, this hearty and warming stew will certainly satiate the appetites of the hungriest diners and is a perfect winter dish.  Happy cooking!

Anyone who has ever purchased saffron is not surprised to learn that it is the most expensive spice in the world.  The reddish-orange threads are the stigmas from the small purple crocus.  Each crocus has only three stigmas and these must be hand-picked and dried.  It takes over 14,000 tiny stigmas to yield just one ounce of saffron – a fact that explains the price tag.

Frozen Saffron Water

To make my purchase last a bit longer, I love to make saffron-infused water and freeze it into convenient cubes.  It’s a trick I learned from Paula Wolfert in her outstanding cookbook, The Food of Morocco.  You simply toast 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads in a dry, warm skillet until fragrant and then add them to 1 cup of hot water.  Allow the saffron threads to infuse the water and then pour the infused water into ice-cube trays and freeze.  The resulting cubes yield about 2 tablespoons each of saffron water which is equal to a good pinch.

Harira 2

Moroccan Harira – Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves 6 to 8

This traditional Moroccan soup is served after sundown during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.  The celebration of Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar and this thick stew not only changes from household to household, but also changes to accommodate the season in which Ramadan takes places (each year Ramadan is celebrated approximately 11 days earlier).  My version of harira is adapted from a recipe for a “Chickpea, Lentil and Rice Harira” in The Gourmet Cookbook.

½ lb lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion, minced
8 cups water
A generous pinch of saffron or 2 tablespoons saffron water (see “how to” in post)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup brown basmati rice
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 cups thinly sliced kale, stems removed
1 1/2 lbs strained or pureed canned tomatoes
½ cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley, more for garnish
½ cup minced fresh cilantro, more for garnish
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon spicy smoked paprika

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the olive oil.  Add the minced lamb shoulder and cook briefly until browned.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the red onion with a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften.

Return the browned lamb to the pot and add the chickpeas, water, saffron water, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover.  Cook for 30 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, rice, kale, pureed tomatoes, herbs, tomato paste, and paprika.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for another 45 minutes or until lentils and rice are soft.   Add salt to taste and add more water to reach desired consistency.  Serve garnished with fresh herbs.

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