Harira soup, or the art of breaking Ramadan fast.

The Harira is a Moroccan soup involving chickpeas, lentils, rice or other starch, tomatoes, onions, optional meat (lamb, beef, chicken - personally, I prefer lamb by far) and several essential herbs and spices: cilantro, parsley, celery, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric.
This is traditionally the soup that breaks the fast every evening during the Ramadan period, accompanied with some dates and dried fruit. It is followed a couple of hours later by a traditional meal, tajine, couscous…
As a student, I spent a few months in Morocco as an intern in a Casablanca bank and during some excursions in Marrakesh and the Atlas, I became friend with a young Fassi (i.e. an inhabitant of Fez) who invited me to visit him and his family when in Fez. This was Ramadan then, in the heart of the month of August, and I had the chance to share his family’s fast breaking meals, in the superb medina (old pedestrian city) of Fez. Fez is one of the most beautiful cities I had the chance to visit, with its famous University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859, the oldest continuously functioning university in the world, its many madrasas (schools or universities), its souk, which is more than a market, but also a production area, geographically organized by craft, such as the "tanneur” and “orfèvre” areas hosting the ancestral work of leather and precious metals respectively, and its souks and bazars, with a special mention for the spice souks, an unequalled olfactive experience.
Coming back to the Harira recipe, put 1 onion cut in quarters, a generous bunch of parsley and cilantro, few celery leaves in a blender, cover with water and blend finely. Pour it in a pot, add a couple of celery stems, the meat finely chopped (around 1 lb. – for 4 to 6 servings), the dry lentils (1/2 cup) and chickpeas (1 cup) (NB: If either one is canned, add at the end only), 1 stick of cinnamon, 1 (generous) tbsp. or turmeric, 1 tbsp. or ginger (or fresh one grated), and salt. Start to bring to boiling. Meanwhile, place in the blender the pulp of the equivalent of two tomatoes (i.e. peeled and seeded), add 1 tbsp. of tomato paste or (I prefer, as it adds also some spices and flavors to the dish) of harissa (hot chili pepper paste), cover with water and blend it. Add to the pot, complete with water and let simmer for a couple of hours, lid on. Stir regularly and take this opportunity to enjoy the flavors that exhale from the pot. After (approx.) two hours, prepare a “binder” that will thicken the soup, i.e. a mix of 1/2 cup of flour and 1 cup of water, pouring progressively the water while stirring to avoid creating lumps, and completing with a tsp of harissa or more if you feel like adding some more heat to the dish. Pour half of the binder in the pot while stirring energetically and regularly till the binder is consistently mixed with the soup and, only if need be (you want to thicken the soup, but you don’t want a purée! ), add progressively part or all the remaining binder. This is also when you will add the chickpeas and/or the lentils if you use canned ones. Also add a good handful of round rice or vermicelli, or more if you like it. Personally, I prefer to use orzo (barley) in a moderate quantity. Let simmer for another 15/20 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid that, under the effect of the blinder flour, it sticks at the bottom. Serve in a bowl, spreading some chopped fresh cilantro and/or parsley, squeeze a few drops of lemon into it…
Even if you don’t eat it to break the fast, it will be fast to break the cold and heat you up when the winter is harsh.


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