Chicago is a city full of neighborhoods, and my parents taught us to take full advantage. We learned to explore neighborhoods and food and had regular adventures. We would hop in the car and head out to Chinatown where we learned “restaurant manners” and how to eat snails, head out to Hyde Park for some of the first Thai food in the city, explore Vietnamese food and grocery stores in Uptown, and anything else that sounded interesting. My parents are still explorers, and I still love to cross the city trying new foods. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who also enjoys exploring food and neighborhoods with me, and together we have had some amazing meals. We continue to explore with Z, something I credit for her adventurous eating. One of our favorite discoveries is harira, a hearty stew that we were introduced to at a local Moroccan restaurant. Hearty and filling, packed with legumes and meat in spiced broth, we were hooked.
I have tried several recipes for harira, but nothing I made was as good as we remembered. I learned that harira is made all over North Africa, and the recipes vary broadly depending on what ingredients are available. Once I discovered “Morocco: A Culinary Journey with Recipes from the Spice-Scented Markets of Marrakech to the Date-Filled Oasis of Zagora” by Jeff Koehler, I had a foundation for building this soup. And yes, this soup is truly built. It layers flavors and textures into something truly special. This soup is usually served at the end of Ramadan fasting- a fitting time as I can’t imagine a more perfect food for when you are hungry at the end of the day.
I highly encourage you to check out “Morocco,” not just for the recipes, but because the photography is stunning and I love the stories behind his recipes. I continue to cook from this book, even after owning it for a couple of years. Cookbooks tend to go in and out of rotation for me, but I constantly find myself revisiting this for inspiration. I don’t have as much time to explore as I used to, but this cookbook and a bowl full of harira are a fabulous escape.
Notes: Harira is made with lamb or beef, but I use beef because it is easier to find. I have easy access to tiny Middle Eastern vermicelli noodles, but fideo noodles, orzo or crushed linguini would also work well. Don’t feel like opening up a bag of lentils? You can use canned lentils instead of dried, just add them in with the vermicelli at the end. I usually find them in the organic or Italian sections of the grocery store. This recipe uses flour as a thickener, although I have seen many other recipes that whisk in an egg to get the same smooth texture. Give it a try if you are looking for more protein.
Adapted from “Morocco: A Culinary Journey with Recipes from the Spice-Scented Markets of Marrakech to the Date-Filled Oasis of Zagora” by Jeff Koehler
1 pound stew beef, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 cup of celery, finely chopped (leaves are great if you have them!)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup parsley, loosely packed and then finely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, loosely packed and then finely chopped, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 28 oz can pureed tomatoes
½ cup of dried lentils (substitute canned lentils)
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed
¼ cup flour
2 lemons – 2 tablespoons of juice and 1 cut into wedges
1/2 cup vermicelli noodles
8 ½ cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in the base of a large soup pot and add beef, flipping every couple of minutes, until all sides are browned. This may need to be done in batches, depending on the size of your pot.
Add onion, celery, parsley, cilantro, ginger and cinnamon, stir together well.
Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 45 minutes.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chickpeas, lentils and 1 ½ cups of water. Bring the pot back up to a simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
While the soup simmers, add lemon juice, flour and 1 cup of water to a small saucepan. Whisk together at low heat. Let it sit, and whisk again.
Slowly whisk the flour mixture into the soup, while stirring. Continue stirring for 5 minutes, or until you can tell there are no lumps.
Sprinkle in the vermicelli noodles and simmer until they are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste
Serve with a lemon wedge and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.