Morocco is a country full of color, noise, bustle. It’s a vibrant, bold, beautiful country and just so happens to be the one place I’ve had a hard time explaining to people when they ask how our time there was. In many ways, it’s different from most places I’ve traveled because there aren’t a lot of definitive restaurants or cafes you ‘must try’ nor did we have a long list of tourist must-sees. Sure, in the cities we visited there are beautiful mosques and madrasas and gardens and museums — and we saw many of them. But really, we spent most of our time in Morocco wandering, people watching, letting ourselves get lost within the markets and souks and streets. The answer to the question, ‘what should we do today?’ was usually met with the sentiment that we wanted to get out and just see it all. And despite all the ways that the days were frenetic and impossible to plan or predict, there were a few constants: the prayer call that would sound over loudspeakers on top of the minarets throughout the city a number of times a day, and a spicy bean and noodle soup that was often served with lunch or dinner.
The simple, rustic and hearty soup that Moroccans eat with deep, generous wooden spoons was something I came to look for on restaurant menus: this was my Moroccan comfort food, often served with herbed olives and the ever-present white, crusty discs of bread. When we first arrived in Marrakech, I recall staying away from the bread thinking it was really just white flour and wouldn’t taste like much, but after a few days I came to love dipping it in soups and stews and using it to sop up all that briny, herbed olive juice.
Now, harira isn’t always good. I had some pretty marginal bowls of soup while eating out in Morocco, but I also had some perfectly seasoned, comforting bowls of soup with assertive warm spices, soft lentils and chickpeas, ripe tomatoes, a good hit of lemon and a sprinkling of herbs. Harira is traditionally the dish that breaks the fast during Ramadan, so it’s much beloved by Moroccans too, and often served with a range of simple accompaniments. Sometimes when we ordered the soup, it had little bits of chicken in it, and I know it’s often made with lamb or even an egg. It was often the cheapest thing on the menu (less than $1) and the servings were quite generous so it made for an easy, inexpensive lunch (and allowed us to save room for those honey-drenched pistachio sweets they sell in the streets: YES).
The best bowl of harira was at one of the restaurants on the Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakech. This is the square you’ve possibly seen photos of — busy with the snake charmers and women selling argan oil during the day and transformed at night into a bustling, loud street food extravaganza. I’d read that you can’t help but to find yourself at the square at least once a day, either as you pass through on your way elsewhere or just to people watch, mail a letter, or have an afternoon pot of tea. We found this to be true, and used the square as a landmark when we were lost; at night, especially, you could see the smoke rising from the square thanks to all of the grilled meat vendors.
On our last night in Marrakech, Sam and I managed to snag a seat on the terrace level of one of the restaurants on the square and could watch all of the bright activity from above, the evening punctuated with the call to prayer and the small crowds of men and women rushing towards the mosque. While I admittedly knew little about the history behind the call to prayer before traveling to Morocco, I was fascinated with the ritual and repetition of it immediately. I didn’t understand the words being broadcast throughout the city, but I loved that it was a reminder to pause during the day, and that the reminder was so repetitively woven into the tapestry of daily life. While I don’t frequent church here in Seattle, my time in Morocco did leave me wishing we had something similar — a built-in time-out to be thankful and hopeful and present. A true constant, regardless of what the day may bring.
I took a time out all day yesterday to work on this soup and enjoy the rainy weather and crisp, falling temperatures. And in truth, I’m a bit hesitant to call it Harira because it’s really not (although it’s pretty similar) as I’ve taken some liberties to satisfy my own curiosities and tastes. I started researching it when we came home and landed on a recipe from The Splendid Table which looked promising. I then started to flip through Louisa Shafia’s beautiful book, The Persian Kitchen, and came across a recipe for a Bean, Herb and Noodle Soup which shared many similarities with the Moroccan soup I’d come to love. The recipe I’m sharing with you today was inspired by both sources and shares many attributes, but is ultimately quite different thanks to my obsessive tweaking.
I remembered the soup in Morocco being slightly pureed yet still chunky, so I ended up blending part to get the consistency that I like. I also didn’t want to rely too heavily on cinnamon, wanted lots of brightness from the lemon and loved the idea of a creamy hit of yogurt on top. Do know that this recipe makes a lot of soup. We had this for dinner a few nights in a row (perfect for this rainy spell we’ve fallen under here in Seattle) and I just froze a bunch to pull out on a evening sometime in the near future when the thought of making dinner feels like a challenge. This has been happening more and more around here lately, so I’m thankful to have this boldly spiced souvenir, now always at the ready.
Note: For my next post, I’ll share some more specifics about where we stayed, ate and visited while in Morocco. While there, I shared quite a few photos on Instagram, so you can find a peek into our trip there.
This soup is really best the second day, so if you have the forethought to make it before you plan to serve it, you’ll be all the happier for it. Feel free to use any dried beans you’d like here: fava or cannellini beans would be really nice. Next time, I think I’ll mix in some hearty winter greens or a generous handful of chopped Italian parsley for color. If you’d prefer to use canned chickpeas instead of dried, choose one 15-ounce can and go ahead and add the canned chickpeas along with the tomatoes and lentils and cook the whole soup together for 45 minutes-1 hour. The initial simmering step is just to give the dried chickpeas a chance to soften as they can take awhile to cook.
Cover the dried chickpeas with cold water and soak overnight at room temperature. Rinse well with cold water; Drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until transluscent. Add the carrot and cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add dried/soaked chickpeas, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and paprika. Add the broth and bring to a low boil. Decrease the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 45 minutes (if using canned chickpeas, skip this initial cooking step; it’s just to soften the dried chickpeas. Proceed immediately to step below instead).
Add the lentils and tomatoes and 3/4 cup water. Bring the soup to a low boil and decrease again, partially covering and simmering for an additional 45 minutes- 1 hour, or until the lentils and chickpeas are both tender. Ladle out 4-5 cups soup into a blender or food processor and blend quickly until smooth. Return to soup pot.
Add the noodles and 1 cup water, and stir well so the noodles don’t clump together. When the noodles have softened into the soup, squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Feel free to add a bit more broth or water if you feel the soup needs thinning.
To serve: Top with a spoonful of yogurt and a sprinkling of parsley.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.