3.05.2016

Harira, There, and Everywhere

I first had harira in Marrakech in 1991. I was in a hotel restaurant, seated in a banquette with five others, surrounded by zelij-covered walls in dizzying patterns and colors. We were staying at the Hotel La Mamounia, definitely my most elegant hotel experience.

At the time, I was Program Director for the New York State Museum Institute, and was in charge of their travel program, both domestic and foreign. Mostly, it was domestic. Happily, I was offered a spot on a familiarization tour to Morocco to entice me to bring a group from my museum.

For $432, I got round trip airfare (first class in one direction) on Royal Air Maroc, and a 10-day, whirlwind tour of the highlights of a most beautiful and amazing country.

Our hotels were all the best available, except when they weren't available - La Mamounia being one of two five-star properties at which we stayed. When one leaves Marrakech and heads into in the High Atlas Mountains, there simply aren't many five-star hotels on the road. In fact, one is lucky if there is any road at all.

Which brings me to my second bowl of harira. It was in the High Atlas Mountains in the home of Mohammed, the driver of one of our 4X4 vehicles, known in French as "quatres-quatres."

The pool at La Mamounia
A mountain road blocked by a landslide called for a change of schedule, and led to an impromptu overnight stay at the home of the brother of our driver Mohammed. His was a kind, beautiful, and generous Berber family, as you see in the photos.

Mohammed, his wife, two children, and a nephew.
Their home wasn't in a town, per se, but there was assemblage of adobe homes and outbuildings that included a granary and an olive oil mill. We toured everything we could, and provided a source of fascination and ample amusement for the kids in the neighborhood. Our blond hair was the thing that attracted their attention most.

Lachsen with his cousins. His mother is in the background.
The meal at Mohammed's home was served in the main room; the floor, banquettes, and walls were all clad with Moroccan carpets and textiles. A traditional meal was served; we had harira, a vegetable couscous, a goat tagine, and finished with sliced oranges - the sweetest I ever tasted till we moved to Tucson - sprinkled with cinnamon.

Lachsen with his cousin David, who was very proud to share his name with me.
The men of our small group slept in the large attached stable on piles of handwoven Berber carpets; the  goats (those that hadn’t found their way into the tagine) were on one side of a short dividing wall, we men on the other. We kept company with the matriarch's treadle sewing machine along with bolts of colorful fabrics. The women stayed in the main room where we had eaten dinner.

The granary - or ksar in Maghrebi Arabic - near Mohammed's home.
My two first harira experiences could not have been more different in terms of venue, yet they were close to identical in quality and exquisite flavor. One made with lamb, the other with the freshest butchered goat. How fortunate was I to be able to taste this national soup in these settings?

Laundry day in the High Atlas Mountains.
I haven't had harira since then - not even at EPCOT at DisneyWorld - till this week. It was a perfect storm of ingredients in my kitchen. We had bought lentils last week for a French dish, and had enough left over. We had a small chunk of lamb shoulder. We seem always to have cans of plum tomatoes, and there were chickpeas in the cupboard. There are always fresh herbs in our garden. It was a no-brainer.

My homemade harira was every bit as good as I recalled - deep, rich, lamb-flavored broth contrasted with the acidic tomatoes, sweet spices, and bright leafy herbs. I served it with a Provençal rosé - Domaine La Rabiotte, a readily available and very good rosé from Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence. To read more about the pairing, check out my review on the Provence WineZine.

Moroccan tiles with carved plaster in the Koranic School in Marrakech.
That long-ago trip to Morocco was in January. Marrakech was sunny, warm, and dry like Tucson, while up in the Atlas Mountains, the weather was cold like New England. The soup worked well in both situations - perfect for summer or winter! And perfect with rosé year-round!

I hope you enjoy some of my photos from a time long passed.

~ David

Harira

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, grated
8 ounces lamb shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup green lentils, soaked in water for 1 hour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups canned plum tomatoes
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup flour
1 large egg

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add grated onion, lamb, and spices. Brown the meat for 3 minutes. Add lentils and 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, the reduce heat to medium, cover the pot, and cook for 15 minutes. Add another 4 cups water.

Add a little bit of the soup liquid to the tomato paste to dilute it. Then add the mixture to the soup. Purée the tomatoes and the celery, and add to the pot with the cilantro and parsley. Taste the soup and adjust the salt accordingly. Lower the heat to medium and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.

Add the chickpeas. Dilute flour in some hot water; mix well. Add flour mixture to the soup, stirring continuously, until the soup thickens. Cook the soup for 2-3 minutes. Beat the egg with a fork, then add it to the soup while stirring. Cook for another 3 minutes before serving.

Serves 8.


52 comments:

  1. David, this is a beautiful post. I've never heard of this soup -- what I know about Morocco and its food would fit on the head of a pin -- but I'm intrigued.

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    1. Jean - Moroccan cuisine is wonderful, complex, and quite addicting! I plan to post more recipes in the next year!

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  2. My mouth is watering. This looks so good! Lisa, if you are reading this, maybe we can make some when you are up this month! (My sister-in-law Lisa lives in Morocco nearly half the year!) The wine-pairing sounds perfect!

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    1. This is a perfect soup for those raw March days, Susan! Have a great visit with Lisa!

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  3. Looks delicious and I enjoyed reading about your trip! Beautiful photos!

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  4. This is an amazing account of an amazing trip. The soup is going straight onto my list of new tastes I must experience. But mostly this post leaves me with the most profound feeling of wanderlust. Fortunately I'm going to Nicaragua on Monday! I won't find harira, but I do hope for some of the adventure you describe so beautifully. GREG

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    1. Thanks, Greg - I hope you have a wonderful trip! I am hoping you are going on a cuisine-related trip! (When is travel NOT cuisine-related?)

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  5. Dear David, I had never heard of this dish before your lovely post either. Another thing I have learned from your writings - amazing photography, fabulous description of your trip and lots of love that went into putting this post together.
    Euch noch ein schönes und hoffentlich nicht zu kaltes Wochenende,
    Andrea & Co.

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    1. Thanks, Andrea - I really appreciate your kind comment! It was a wonderful trip - and seeing these photos made me miss taking photographs using real film!

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  6. David, your photographs and the accompanying story are beautiful... and the dish, well just delicious.

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  7. Another wonderful post, David!!! LOVE the old photos and your recollections of your travels ($432 RT!!!) The dish sounds fabulous, too! I have yet to travel to this part of the world, and hope to get there one day in the near future!

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    1. Well, I guess I should have been clearer that much of a Fam Tour is paid by the promoters - in this case, the Moroccan Government - to promote tourism.

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  8. You've brought so many memories back from when Dean and I travelled through Morocco 14 years ago. The souqs, the food, the High Atlas Mountains and sleeping through a windstorm in a berber tent in the desert.

    Would love to go back one day, but in the meantime I should make this harira and dream a little more.

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    1. Yes, make harira and dream on, John! I missed out on the windstorm in a Berber tent - that must have been amazing. I really want to go back soon.

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  9. Absolutely! Positively!! Wonderful!!! We're heading out to find some nice lamb, and a couple of other things, and should be enjoying the results by tonight. One question, though...why canned plum tomatoes, if fresh are available? Something about the intensity of flavor?

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    1. Sorry for the delay in my answer, Bob and Ursula - yes, you can used fresh tomatoes, but tinned plum tomatoes gibe a better broth. If I were to use fresh, i would grate them, and then probably cook them down a bit more.

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  10. I so look forward to your posts, both for the fabulous recipes and the wonderful travelogues with exquisite photos! Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane. I feel as if I've visited Morocco this morning and cannot wait to try this recipe!

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    1. Thanks, Peg - I really appreciate that. I hope you are well, and acting away!

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  11. What an amazing journey--from the official trip to the fascinating unexpected detour! This is what a real charmed life is about. Your soup looks wonderful; even the picture exudes flavor!

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    1. Inger - the unexpected parts of our journey always remain the most memorable, don't they? Thanks for your nice comment!

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  12. Wonderful post!!!! I loved reading about Mohammed - the photographs are just stunning. They should be framed.

    I get harira occasionally from my deli and it's incredible. I was inspired by your post to make a 'harira-ish ' soup last night , I had about 2/3 of the ingredients. It was good but not harira...ill be trying again with all the proper ingredients again soon! Except maybe the lamb - I'm so not a lamb person. Would use chicken or veal instead!

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    1. Thanks, Ahu - I have the photos careful mounted in an album, and sadly have lost the negatives. Perhaps I should frame them!

      I forget that you aren't a lamb person. Even beef would work in this soup - I know you will love it!

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  13. Your post brings back memories of my own trip to Morocco two years ago. It was such a great experience! Thank you and I will make the soup.

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    1. Gerlinde - it still remains one of my most memorable trips to date... What is it about Morocco?

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  14. What divine photos David, especially the ones of the people. Beautiful memories connected to food

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    1. Thanks, Paola - I had lost these photos for a while, and was glad to find them (in a timely way) for this post.

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  15. Wonderful pictures of the people you met. And the soup looks great. Soup is something I love to make so I will try my hand at this.

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  16. You are right, David, those people are very beautiful! What an enchanting experience.
    I have read about Morocco and know that visitors think that it is a fantastic country. I have heard that it is very safe and very open minded. I hope that's true.

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    1. Caterina - I hope to return to Morocco soon, and hope that I am able to report back that your feelings are true!

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  17. Hi David, I love reading your posts, always a wonderful story or a bit of history. This looks like a very special soup, one that I am going to pin for later. Beautiful pics!

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    1. Thanks, Cheri - I know you love soups and this one is healthy and hearty!

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  18. Linda G. Oh how my friends and I can relate. We stayed at La Mamounia as well, ate at rose petal covered tables in Riads down lantern led narrow streets, and shared couscous with a kind shopkeepers family. And, I scarily but safely drove us over the Atlas Mountains. Thanks so very much for bringing back those memories.

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    1. The rose petals on the tables... on the beds... and rosebuds (fresh daily) in the fountains... Magical. Linda - I am envious of your personal drive across the Atlas Mountains... perhaps I shall get back someday to do it myself!

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  19. This is an amazing post David. Wow. I haven't been to Morocco but I've been obsessed with Moroccan food for a long time. I've heard of harira but I've never eaten it before. That might have to change... by means of your recipe!
    Thanks for letting us travel back in time with you via your photos. What amazing snapshots of a time passed. Love your recollections too... haha, blonde hair tends to get a lot of attention in predominantly dark-featured countries. Aaron gets the same (being blonde haired and blue eyed) in Asian countries. Funnily enough, he finally felt like he had found his 'kinsmen' when we went to Scandinavia. They thought he was a local! Anyway, great post as always my friend x

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    1. You are so sweet, Laura! I think our fair hair (when I had it) and skin make us very exotic to people with darker features, especially when there is little exposure to people from the outside.

      I hope you get to make and enjoy the harira - such wonderful flavors!

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  20. Lentil soups are by far the best soup I ever tasted. You are so lucky to have it prepared by local. I tasted it in the hotel and it was a bad experience after my previous experience when I eat in a village. Since then I am looking for traditional street food every time I travel.

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    1. I very much agree with you, Cindy! Traditional street food and the food we find in villages is by far superior to hotel food! And being served this food in a family home was one of the most special experiences I have had.

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  21. One of the (way too many) places of my "must go to" list! What gorgeous pictures! The ingredient list for this recipe is mouth-watering! And beautifully colorful.

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    1. Funny, Valentina, the ingredients in this soup often appear in your posts! :)

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  22. Sounds like that was one heckuva trip, David. I cannot believe the cost of the airfare -- and 1st Class, no less. Your recipe for harira sounds wonderful. It certainly looks like the real deal and I bet the aroma is incredible. I need to make this!

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    1. Well, John as I mentioned above to Christina, it was underwritten by the Moroccan Government. I wonder if Fam Tours are still as good a deal these days!

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  23. I have made harira and think it is delicious. I can't wait to try your version. Wonderful memories, thanks for sharing your story.

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    1. Karen - let me know if you do make this. It is as authentic a recipe as I could put together!

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  24. David - What a wonderful post - thank you for sharing your memories and a tasty recipe, too.

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    1. You are welcome, Nicole - glad you enjoyed it!

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  25. You're a well-traveled soul, my friend. I love your stories and the recipes that accompany them.
    Never heard of harira and am crazy about anything Moroccan. Can't wait to try it. It sounds fragrant and delicious! xoxo

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    1. I think you will really love this combination, Colette!

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