It’s been 11 months since my last visit and as much as I love my life in New York, I’m always a little homesick during Ramadan. One of the things that makes fasting in the U.S.A. a challenge for me is the sense of isolation. I was fortunate to grow up with the tradition of eating together as a family at night. This was particularly important during Ramadan, when the focus was less on the outside world and individual obligations, and more on our common faith and practices. However, my family now lives in Morocco full-time, while I live in the U.S. and pursue my career. Having begun Ramadan in New York on my own for a few days (breaking my fast with fast food while working at my desk and feverishly trying to finish my work before hopping on a plane), I’m ready to re-connect with my traditions and roots. So here I am, at last, about to return to proverbial fold for at least a short while.
I’m terribly excited by the thought that it’s time for some of my favorite home-cooked dishes. In particular, I absolutely adore harira! Harira is a traditional Moroccan soup typically served during Ramadan. It is hardy and filling. Each region of the country has its own variation and families often develop a household recipe that is handed down through the women of the family over generations. My mom, for example, prepares a version of harira that my great-grandmother perfected. She has taught that recipe to my sister and me, and I fully intend to pass it on to any children I may be blessed with. It is so much more than just food, you see. It’s a symbol of love, history, tradition, and family relationships. It’s a connection to the past and a trigger for those oh-so-warm-and-homey emotions that only “comfort food” engenders. So, with a love of good food and a passion for my home, I’d like to share a relatively simple version of harira with you – just in case anyone would like to give it a shot. I hope you enjoy it, and I leave you with warm wishes for happiness and good health!
First you prepare a stock for the soup; the ingredients are:
250-300 grams of meat (can be mutton, chicken or veal – if read meat, cube before cooking)
500 grams of small whole onions
2 cups of chickpeas (can be made with lentils and amount adjusted to preference – if you use lentils, they should be cooked separately and put aside until added to the stock at the end of cooking to avoid over-softening)
½ teaspoon of saffron (if you are using saffron strings, a pinch or two should be sufficient)
1 teaspoon of pepper
1 tablespoon of butter
1 ½ liters of water
In a saucepan, combine all of the above ingredients (start with a couple pinches of salt – more can be added a the end to taste) and cover over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Then reduce to low heat to maintain a simmer. Once the onions seem cooked, remove from saucepan and set aside. Check the meat to see if it is cooked through about an hour in and monitor thereafter until the meat is done. Then, remove from the heat and set aside, adding back the onions (add in the cooked lentils at this time if you replace the chickpeas).
Second, you prepare the tomato base for the soup; the ingredients are:
Parsley (about one bunch)
Coriander (about one bunch)
1 ½ kilos of canned tomatoes
1 liter of water
1/3 cup of lemon juice
1 table spoon of butter
200 grams of flour
Combine the tomatoes and water in a food processor or hand grinder until you get the chunks out (if you want to use fresh tomatoes, you can make a quick slice in the skin, flash boil them, remove the skin then put them back in the boiling water to cook before grinding them into a liquid with the water they cooked in). In a pot, bring the water-tomato mixture to boil and keep at the boiling point for about 15 minutes. While the tomatoes and water are boiling, (1) mix the flour into the liter of water and set aside, and (2) wash to parsley and coriander, pat dry, chop both bunches up finely before crushing to release the oils in the herbs (you can use a mortar and pestle, small food processor or any other appropriate kitchen gadget), then set aside. Pour the liquid from the stock you previously prepared into the tomatoes and water. Take the tomato base off the heat and add the flour mixture to the tomato base slowly while stirring continuously to keep the mixture smooth and creamy. Return the tomato base to the stove over heat and bring back to a boil while stirring. Add in the prepared herbs and a generous pinch of salt along with another liter of water (you can add this slowly if you see that the consistency of the soup seems a bit thin – it should reduce to a creamy texture as the water boils off a little). Continue to stir while the soup comes back to a boiling point. Add salt as needed and add in the meat from the stock that had previously been put aside, keeping on the stove over low heat until the meat is warmed through again.
Our household usually adds in a couple of eggs at the end while the soup is kept at a simmer (as if you are poaching the eggs). If you choose to do that, stir very gently to separate the whites a slightly from the yolks, but otherwise do not agitate the soup so that the eggs cook whole and do not diffuse into the mixture. This recipe feeds about 10-12. Slices of lemon can also be squeezed over individual bowls (to taste) for each person, and dates and other sweet treats are often consumed simultaneously for that traditional Moroccan sweet-savory mix. Enjoy!