When I spent time in Morocco a couple of years ago, I found harira on nearly every menu. Traditionally, it is the food that breaks the month-long, daylight fasting of Ramadan, but I was told by more than one old geezer that it was also referred to as “Smoker’s Soup” because it helped purify the lungs. From what I saw, these men most likely ate spoonfuls of the stuff between long drags on their Marlboros.
Owing to the fact that I was not only riding, eating, and wearing camels, but smoking a hell of a lot of them, too, I decided to join them in their health regimen. My lungs didn’t necessarily feel any better, but my stomach did. And maybe my soul, too.
Two years later, as I struggle to leave the Camels back in the Sahara where they belong, I have returned to harira in my latest and most successful attempt at purification. Nowhere on the internet could I find any mention of this being a smoker’s soup. Of course, the old men who imparted this wisdom looked as though they’d never heard of a gmail account. God bless them and I pray that they never do.
It comforts me to know that you can’t find everything by Goggle search.
There are probably as many harira recipes as there are families who make it. No two recipes I’ve seen are alike. This is one I happen to think is really good. Some people like to add pasta, some people prefer a bit of egg. And some people can get a thrill knitting sweaters and sitting still.
This soup can be made meatless by simply omitting one of the ingredients. If I have to tell you which one, you are a very bad vegetarian.
1/2 pound lamb. Not fancy cuts, just stew meat. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Throw in a few bones, too.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup lentils. Not French lentils. Some Moroccans still take issue with the French.
3/4 cup tomato paste
1 bunch parsley stems, tied together like some sort of Morticia Addams bouquet.
1 bunch cilantro stems treated as the parsley has been treated, leaves reserved for garnish.
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick, three to four inches in length
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
A pinch of saffron
1 cup (for this recipe) canned chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon flour
The juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat oil and butter in a large Dutch oven. Add lamb bones and meat to brown nicely.
2. Add onion and cook until translucent. Then add spices, tomato paste, lentils, parsley, and cilantro stems. Cover with 8 cups of water, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, add the canned chickpeas.
3. Make a slurry of flour with 1/2 cup of cold water and add to the soup, stirring well. Simmer for another 15 minutes.
4. When finished, remove lamb bones and the parsley and cilantro stems. Add as much salt and pepper as you deem necessary. Be generous with the salt, if you don’t think it will kill you.
5. Ladle into warm bowls. Garnish with a scant fistful of cilantro leaves and wedges of lemon. Have at it with a loaf of very crusty bread and a spoon.
6. Repeat as needed.
Now how do you feel? Has the tar from 20 years of passionate cigarette smoking suddenly found the urge to leave your body? Oh. Well, I hope your soul is satisfied. Or, if you lack one of those, then at least your stomach.