Harira is a traditional Moroccan soup of tomato, lentils and chickpeas. Wonderfully fragrant with zesty seasoning, it often ranks high on lists of must-try Moroccan foods. It’s a popular offering in Moroccan homes and restaurants, and you can even find it sold as a street food.
The name harira, derived from the Arabic word for silk, makes reference to the texture of the soup after it’s been thickened with either eggs or a tedouira of flour and water. The tedouira (thickener) sometimes includes yeast and may be left to ferment for a day or two.
Although harira is prepared year-round, it’s famously associated with Ramadan, when it’s likely to be among the spread of food offered to break the fast. This tradition is so ingrained that many Moroccans consider a meal during Ramadan incomplete if harira isn’t on the table. I share that sentiment. I’ve come to love and expect harira during Ramadan, and if I don’t have a bowl of this traditional soup after a day of fasting, something always seems to be missing even if I’ve had an otherwise satisfying meal.
As with so many Moroccan recipes, the way harira is made can vary dramatically from family to family. Beef, lamb or chicken are typically added to flavor the stock; however, they can be omitted for a vegetarian version. Some prefer harira light and mildly seasoned while others favor a thick, zesty soup which suffices as a hearty meal-in-a-bowl. The latter is my preference, no doubt influenced by my mother-in-law’s delicious version below, which she taught me to make long before I moved to Morocco. Fragrantly seasoned with ginger, pepper, and cinnamon, it gets additional flavor and body from a robust quantity of fresh herbs: cilantro, parsley, celery and onion. Rice or broken vermicelli is added as a filler. Smen, a type of preserved butter, is an optional but recommended ingredient, as a little bit will add a pleasant layer of parmesan-like flavor.
The prep work for harira can be considerable; however, much of that work can be done in advance and the prepped ingredients put in the freezer for easy cooking at a later time. If you plan to cook harira with any regularity, such as in Ramadan, then you may want to consider getting that prep work out of the way. Read through the directions for prepping ingredients for suggestions of what can be done ahead of time. A food processor will help simplify those steps.
Moroccan Harira Recipe
- 8 oz. lamb, beef or chicken, diced
- 3 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
- several soup bones (optional)
- 2 lbs soft, ripe tomatoes (about 6 large)
- 1 handful dry chickpeas, soaked and peeled
- 2 handfuls dry green or brown lentils
- 1 large onion, grated
- 1 stalk celery (with leaves), chopped
- 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp smen (optional)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp ginger
- 1.5 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 3 tbsp tomato paste combined with 1 or 2 cups water
- 3 tbsp uncooked rice OR broken vermicelli
- 1 cup flour combined with 2 cups water
- lemon wedges and cilantro (optional) for garnish
Ahead of Time - Prep Ingredients
- Soak the chickpeas overnight. The next day, drain and peel them. This is easily done by pressing chickpeas one-by-one between your forefinger and thumb or by rubbing all of the chickpeas vigorously in a kitchen towel. (The prepped chickpeas may be be frozen until needed.)
- Pick through the lentils to remove any stones and debris; set aside until ready to use.
- Stew the tomatoes then pass them through a food mill to make a puree; discard the skins and seeds. Or, cut the tomatoes into quarters and process them, with or without skin, in a food processor until smooth. (The pureed tomatoes may be frozen until needed.)
- Grate the onion or process it to a thick pulp in a food processor. (The grated onion may be mixed with the pureed tomatoes and frozen until needed.)
- Wash the celery and finely chop it. Set aside. Remove and discard large pieces of stem from the parsley and cilantro. Wash the parsley and cilantro and leave to drain thoroughly before chopping finely by hand or in a food processor. (The chopped herbs may be mixed together and frozen until needed.)
Make the Soup
- In a 6-quart or larger pressure cooker or stock pot, brown the meat in the oil over medium heat. Add the soup bones, peeled chickpeas, pureed tomatoes, grated onion, spices, smen (if using) and 3 cups (710 ml) of water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook with medium pressure for 25 minutes (or simmer for 50 to 60 minutes).
- Add the lentils, tomato paste mixture, chopped herbs and 8.5 cups (2 liters) water. Bring to a boil and cover. Continue to step 3 or step 4.
- If planning to add rice, cook the soup with medium pressure for 30 minutes (or simmer for 60 minutes); add the rice, and continue cooking with pressure for another 15 minutes (or 30 minutes by simmering).
- OR if planning to add broken vermicelli, cook the soup with pressure for 45 minutes (or simmer for 90 minutes) before stirring in the broken vermicelli. Continue simmering for a few minutes until the vermicelli is tender.
- Taste and adjust seasoning. Thicken the soup to a silky, cream-like consistency by gradually adding the tedouira (flour and water mixture), stirring constantly to ensure that it's well blended. Use only as much as is needed to make the soup as thick as you like.
- Simmer the soup for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam that forms on the surface.
- Remove from the heat and serve.
- A skin will form on the soup as it cools. This can be stirred and blended back into the soup.
- When reheating the soup, use medium or low heat and stir frequently to avoid lentils sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
- If you'd like to freeze the soup, do so before adding the thickener and preferably before adding the rice or broken vermicelli. Allow it to cool completely before freezing. On the day of serving, thaw the soup over low heat then resume cooking from where you left off.
- Lemon wedges may be served on the side for those who like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice as a condiment for the soup. If desired, garnish with a little fresh parsley or cilantro.
- Blending the flour and water tedouira ahead of time will help ensure that it's lump-free when adding it to the soup.