Friday, August 3, 2012

Dinner for One: Harira Soup

I wanted to share a delicious recipe amidst tales of travel and adventure.

Let me be clear:
  • I know nothing about harira.
  • I don't know anyone who has ever tried harira.
  • I may know someone who has had harira but I have never heard anyone say the word "harira" or mention a similar dish.
I've had a copy of a harira recipe for quite some time, merely contemplating. Once I came across harira browsing a few cookbooks, I took the plunge and searched the internet. What I found was that all the bloggers had has much knowledge of harira as I did. The recipes also shared some similarities:
  • lamb
  • chickpeas
  • lentils 
  • tomatoes
  • ginger
  • cumin
  • turmeric
  • cinnamon
  • lemon
  • cilantro
  • parsley
 For my creation, I decided to start with the list of common ingredients and then ad lib with my favorites. And there was some spinach in the fridge...

This pot of harira is amazing! The nuttiness of the chickpeas are complimented by the small, earthy lentils. This is definitely the time to pull out the expensive Puy lentils. The tomaotes, stock, and flour create a thick broth that made me think I was eating something richer than I was.

From top left clockwise: ginger, cumin seeds, turmeric, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, smoked paprika, vegetable bouillon, harissa paste.

Then there's the spices! When I'm not using meat, my trick is to go heavy on the smoked paprika to provide the illusion of the brownness that comes from seared animal flesh. The turmeric and cumin add an earthiness I can't live without, while the cinnamon and nutmeg provide a subtle warmth and fragrance. I used both cinnamon stick and ground cinnamon on purpose. Cinnamon sticks add more fragrance than taste, I think. I added a little bit of ground cinnamon to add to the cinnamon flavor. Spicy heat balances the savoriness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the vegetables. I use harissa paste because I like its complex flavor and gentle heat but cayenne would do the trick, too. What could become heavy and confusing is brightened and tied together by ginger and cilantro. The ginger cuts through all those thick flavors and broth while adding the spiciness that only ginger can provide. The cilantro adds a freshness that makes me think of lemons in a large enough amount (no lemons in my recipe because I didn't have any). Enjoy!

Harira Soup

by Ace Nation
Keywords: soup/stew gluten-free vegan beans/lentils Middle Eastern

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup lentils (Puy, brown, or red)
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-inch long piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seed or 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons harissa paste or cayenne pepper to taste
  • 6 cups vegetable stock or water
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro

  • In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-low to medium heat.
  • Add onions. Stirring occasionally, cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.
  • Add carrots, garlic, and ginger. Stirring occasionally, cook until carrots are tender, 3-4 minutes.
  • Add spices and flour to pan. Cook 30 seconds then add vegetable stock/water. Combine thoroughly. Bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer.
  • Add chickpeas and lentils. Simmer gently until lentils are done, about 15 minutes.
  • Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.
  • Season to taste with harissa paste or cayenne pepper and kosher salt.
  • Serve immediately with plenty of fresh cilantro.
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