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
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
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
The pool at La Mamounia
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces lamb
shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup green
lentils, soaked in water for 1 hour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups canned
1 stalk celery, diced
finely chopped cilantro
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.
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.