Harira is a traditional Moroccan lentil and chickpea soup that's packed with warm spice flavors. With a tomato base, fresh herbs and ginger for a gentle kick, it's a hearty, comforting and delicious combination.
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Ever since I first visited Morocco as a child, I've been a fan of the flavor combinations you find in many Moroccan foods. I love the clever use of spices and and the combining of sweet fruit in savory dishes such as some tagines.
In many cases, the use of herbs and spices allows relatively simple base ingredients be transformed. And this soup is a perfect case in point. The other ingredients are relatively humble pantry staples, but the end dish is certainly something special.
Harira variations and core components
As with many traditional dishes, you'll find a number of variations in this soup. Some are more loaded up with additions and lots of spices, while others are more light. Many start with a meat base while others are vegan. Some add vermicelli pasta, others rice, while some skip both.
But there are some core components as well:
- Onion and celery as an aromatic base.
- Tomato in some form to flavor the soup's liquid.
- Chickpeas and lentils are in pretty much all to give some bulk
- Cilantro and parsley to give a herbal freshness.
- Dry spices - the exact ones and amounts can vary, but turmeric and ginger at least, as well as salt and pepper, are in nearly all.
- Flour-water paste as a thickener.
The flour-water paste is something that's relatively unique to this soup. Yes, other soups use some flour but it is generally to absorb some of the fat from cooking some of the ingredients and added before you add liquid. Here, you mix flour with water to create a kind of slurry called a "tedouria". You add this to the soup towards the end of cooking to thicken it up.
In fact, this paste is where the name of this dish comes from. "Harira" derives from the word for silk in Arabic which refers to the texture of the soup, largely due to this slury that leads to a smooth finish to the final soup.
Here I have gone with a fairly classic combination of ingredients, drawing on a few traditional recipes including this Taste of Maroc recipe and this My Moorish Plate recipe. It's the kind of recipe you can easily tweak to your taste and what you have. You can use more or less ginger, in particular, to give it more of a spice kick (or not).
Do you need to use dried chickpeas?
In short, no, but I think they are better. I've used dried chickpeas for this, partly as it lets you more easily scale up and down the recipe, but more importantly, because they take on the flavors during cooking a lot better.
You can switch them for pre-cooked from a can, which speeds up the process but, as I say, it means they don't take on the broader flavors as much. If you do, scale back the salt and add the chickpeas at the same time as the vermicelli, much later than below.
When would you typically serve this dish?
This is a traditional dish during Ramadan as part of the Iftar supper (the evening meal to break the daytime fast). You would typically eat this as an appetizer, often with fresh dates on the side. However, it is also popular other times of year, too, and makes a great lunch or even main meal on a cold day.
Harira is such a comforting, delicious and hearty soup that makes a wonderful appetizer or full meal, if the mood suits you. This Moroccan lentil and chickpea soup uses relatively everyday pantry ingredients and transforms them into something special. It will become a fast favorite.
Try these other Moroccan dishes:
- Zaalouk (eggplant and tomato salad/dip)
- Moroccan raw carrot salad
- Mrouzia (honey lamb tagine)
- Plus get more North African recipes in the archives. If you enjoy chickpeas you might also like lablabi, a simple Tunisian chickpea soup/stew flavored with cumin and garlic.
Harira (Moroccan lentil and chickpea soup)
- ½ cup dried chickpeas
- 1 stem celery
- ½ onion
- 2 tablespoon cilantro coriander (chopped volume)
- 2 tablespoon parsley (chopped volume)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or a little more, if needed
- 4 oz lamb stew meat or you can use beef (or omit - see notes)
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more/less to taste)
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried ginger (or less if you prefer less of a spice)
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup tomato passata or use finely chopped tomatoes
- 4 ¼ cups water divided
- ½ tablespoon butter or smen (optional)
- ⅓ cup green lentils
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoon flour
- 3 tablespoon vermicelli
- a little lemon juice and cilantro, to serve
The night before
- Place the dried chickpeas in a bowl with plenty of water and leave to soak overnight. Be aware, they will expand quite a lot so make sure the bowl has plenty space and water.
The day of cooking
- Finely chop the celery and grate the onion. Finely chop the cilantro and parsley. Cut the lamb into a medium dice. If you prefer, and have time, peel off the outer layer from the chickpeas
- Warm the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a lid and start by browning the meat all over. Once the meat has a good sear, add the celery and onion and cook a minute or two to soften.
- Then, add the spices (salt, pepper, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric) and stir to mix through. Add the chickpeas, tomato passata, cilantro, parsley and 2 cups (480ml) of water (as well as butter/smen if using) and stir well. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat so that it boils but not too heavily and let the mixture cook for around 1 hour until the chickpeas are starting to soften.
- Meanwhile, soak the lentils in water. Add the tomato paste to a further 2 cups (480ml) of water and mix to dissolve.
- Once the chickpeas have been cooking about an hour, add the lentils and water with tomato paste. Bring back to a simmer and again cover and let cook for around 50 minutes to an hour. By this time, the chickpeas and lentils should both be cooked.
- Shortly before the soup has finished this last cook, mix the flour and remaining ¼ cup (4 tbsp/60ml) of water in a small bowl to form a smooth paste.
- Add the vermicelli to the pot then gradually add a little of the flour paste and stir through. You will feel the soup starting to get thicker. Continue adding a little then stirring through until you get the consistency you want - you will probably need all or close to all. Then, cover and let cook a further 10 minutes until the pasta has cooked through. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice to give a little extra added freshness and/or some additional chopped cilantro on top (optional).