Moroccan Bean and Noodle Soup (Harira)

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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. 

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Moroccan Bean and Noodle Soup (Harira)

  • Cook time: 1 hr 5 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr 5 mins

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.

Ingredients

1/2 pound (about 1 cup) dried chickpeas (or one 15-oz can cooked chickpeas; see headnote above)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 3/4 cups dried red lentils
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes and their juices
4 ounces linguine (or spaghetti) noodles, broken into thirds
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon), to finish
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to season
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, to serve (optional. For vegan preparation, omit)
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley, to top (optional)

Instructions

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.

Comments

  1. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

    This soup looks so comforting it's like a hug! LOVE this recipe. I can't wait to hear more about Morocco in the next post :)

  2. nicole

    I like your positivity regarding the call to prayer and I'm going to try to channel it (while sometimes I do find it rather soothing the sad truth is that is often drives me nuts! Probably because there are like 5 mosques within calling distance and they all go off at slightly different times, the worst being at, oh, 6a. Wait, I was going to be positive ... :)). I'm definitely going to make this - harira sans meat is a favorite of mine though I haven't made it yet. I know if it's coming from you it will be delish! xo

  3. Kasey

    Your entire trip looked magical, Megan! The most epic honeymoon. I can't wait to try this soup -- your description of Morocco has me itching to go there, too. xoxoxo

  4. Eileen

    You have to love a big bowl of soup on a chilly fall night! This sounds so delicious and simple. Yay!

  5. teryll

    Am jazzed about trying out this recipe. I loved following your photos on Instagram, Morocco is enticing!

  6. merry jennifer

    I love the idea of this soup, and it sounds like a wonderful and comforting dinner for the fall. I wanted you to know, also, that I loved following your honeymoon vicariously through your Instagram images.
    And congratulations, again, on your wedding!

  7. Ksenia @ At the Immigrant's Table

    I have always, always, wanted to visit Morocco. Your descriptions of harira really help illustrate why - the warmth, the rustic atmosphere, the heartiness of the people and the food. And this soup is everything I want to eat on a cold day. Thanks for bringing it back to North America with you.

  8. Millie | Add A Little

    This looks delicious - I remember eating this when I was in the street food stalls in Jemma el Fna!

  9. Kathleen

    Ooooh! I love that red lentil carrot soup Melissa Clark shared years ago and always welcome more red lentil soup ideas. This sounds wonderful. It might even please my boys! Thanks, Megan!

  10. Francesca

    All your photos make me super antsy to travel again - I especially love your snapshot of all the stacked tagines. All the ingredients in this soup sound great together. <3 cinnamon

  11. Anne Zimmerman

    You know Sean LOVES Paula Wolfort's Moroccan cookbook. I know there's a recipe for Moroccan bread in there (he's made it), and would bet there's one for the soup too. Looks good. Makes me hungry!!!

  12. Kelly

    I wish I could travel to Marrakech right now. This soup sounds fantastic! Can't wait to try your recipe!

  13. Joy

    Not able to pin this on your share site because picture does not come up

  14. Laura

    Megan--where do you add the broth? :)

    1. megang

      Laura-
      So sorry! In the recipe I used the word "stock" instead of "broth" which was a little confusing. I've changed it now; you add the broth with the tomatoes. I hope you enjoy the soup, and the weekend. ~Megan

  15. Marsha

    Hi,
    I'm making this soup today. It's cold and rainy in Oregon so it will be great! But one note, you include directions for using dried chickpeas, soaking overnight etc. but I don't think they'll cook in the amount of time the soup is cooking? You have to make them separately and then add to soup. Canned ones no problem. And the lentils will also cook in 45-1hr.

    1. megang

      Hi, Marsha- Yes, this rainy weather we're having is perfect for this soup. You're right that the soup recipe is written for the dried chickpeas and I think because I ended up soaking them for so long, the soup cook time was accurate for me. BUT I just made this again a few days ago with a different batch of dried chickpeas just purchased and they were a little firm so I'm going to clarify and lengthen the cook time based on your tips / notes. Thanks so much for taking the time. Happy soup making, ~Megan

  16. Caitlin @ teaspoon

    I can't wait to try this. I've been in a soup rut- making my usuals and it's time to step up my game a bit. My friend just brought me Moroccan spice from Morocco- do you think I can use that in replacement of the spices? She said they used it in everything, but not sure exactly what the flavors are since I wasn't there to test it out!

  17. Joanne

    Megan, I made this soup yesterday and it is absolutely delicious and so nourishing. I have added it to my repertoire along with your Moroccan Carrot Soup. I also want to add that your cookbook is genius. Your recipes have transformed breakfast for me. Especially love the Early Morning Porridge (for those incredibly early mornings when I go birdwatching), The Very Best Oatmeal (house guests are blown away by this one), Vanilla and Cream Steel-Cut Oats Porridge, Spiced Bulgur Porridge (swoon worthy), the Strawberry Rhubarb Quick Jam and Blueberry Sauce. I still have more recipes to try and somehow I know they will be wonderful. Thank you so much! I cannot wait to see what you do with your next book! All the best to you!

  18. wendy@chezchloe

    Yes- Rainy spell again after that week of frosty sun! I'm under a soup spell and I love huge batches of it. A couple dinners and a quart in the freezer for lunch another week.
    This sort of reminds me in some way of Mulligatawny- another great hearty soup/stew. cheers... wendy

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