Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) is hearty and fragrant – a soul-satisfying one-dish meal. There are many versions of this soup – some with meat and others like this one, which is vegan. In some families it is traditional to serve this as the “break-the-fast” meal following Yom Kippur. But it could and should be enjoyed throughout the fall and winter. This is a make-ahead meal that only improves with a bit of age.
To show how vastly different our family traditions can be, my family’s break-the-fast meal was always bagels, lox and smoked fish. We came from New York via Russia Poland. But the truth is that I actually don’t like lox and smoked fish in the Midwest just doesn’t cut it for me. So, as I have with much of our diet during the rest of the year, I have adopted a more Middle Eastern/Mediterranean/South Asian food culture. And a heavily plant-based diet.
I came across a version of this soup on the Jewish Food Society website. It’s a wonderful site that has made it its mission to collect stories and recipes of the myriad Jewish communities across the globe. These are recipes that have been passed down through the generations, but which might have so easily been lost. Because so many of these families were forced from their homes under terrible conditions, it was easy for these unwritten treasures to have fallen by the wayside. While I have found that the recipes on the site are not always easy to follow, especially if you are a novice cook, the family histories alone make the website worth a visit.
While we Jews lived among the local communities, we also remained outside of them, keeping to our own traditions. Local cuisine was adapted to meet the laws of kashrut. Harira, Moroccan Chickpea Soup is a perfect example. Moroccan Muslims would eat harira to break the fast on Ramadan. Whereas many Jews ate it to break the fast on Yom Kippur.
The original recipe for this harira uses fine egg noodles and since I am not a vegan, I did as well. However, there is no reason why an angel hair pasta or spaghettini couldn’t be used instead. That is the only change required to make this wonderful soup vegan.
If you choose to cook your own soaked chickpeas as I have done, you need to start the process the night before. If you prefer to use canned chickpeas, you can still make a delicious and hearty soup. I happen to enjoy cooking my own beans and use the liquid from the cooking process to replace most of the water called for in the recipe. It adds an extra level of nourishment and flavor and helps to further thicken the soup. Unless you are using organic canned beans, however, I would not recommend using the liquid. You could use water, as called for, adding a vegetable bouillon cube or you could use a vegetable stock.
After I had decided to make the recipe I found from the Jewish Food Society, I came across another version from My Jewish Learning, The Nosher. So I ended up doing what I usually do and took the elements that I liked best from both and then tweaked it!
My sister-in-law is from Morocco and I asked what her family’s tradition was for breaking the fast. She told me that their tradition was to eat an egg-drop soup before the fast and cake to break the fast, followed by a full meal. So whatever tradition your family follows – or if you are starting a tradition of your own, I definitely encourage you to fit this wonderful and incredibly soul-satisfying soup in there somehow.
For a version of harira with lamb: Harira – Moroccan Chickpea and Lamb Soup
Yield: 6 servings
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained OR one 15 oz. can of drained chickpeas
4 Tablespoons olive or a neutral oil like Canola
3 medium carrots (or 2 large), peeled and cut into small dice or rounds
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon Harissa paste, or to taste (I used 2 Tablespoons of a milder Harissa and added a few crushed red chili flakes)
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup brown lentils OR 1/2 cup red lentils and 1/2 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed
4 large or 6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped (If making this in the winter, use canned tomatoes, about 28 oz. can)
3 cups fine egg noodles OR angel hair pasta broken into thirds (About 4 to 5 oz. depending on the kind of noodle that you use)
8 cups of vegetable stock, OR water with a couple of bouillon cubes OR the cooking liquid from the chickpeas plus additional water
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
A large handful of cilantro and/or parsley, stems and leaves roughly chopped
If you are cooking your own soaked chickpeas, place the drained chickpeas in a pot with 1 teaspoon of salt and 4.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off any white foam. Cover and cook for 50 minutes at a simmer.
In a large pot, add 4 Tablespoons olive or Canola oil. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and cook for about 6 minutes on medium high heat or until softened. I like to add 1 teaspoon of salt here. I will probably add more later since it is a big pot of soup. However, if you are using broth or bouillon and depending on your Harissa, you might not need much more salt. You can always add it but you cannot easily remove it!
Once the veggies are softened, add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes.
Now add the Harissa, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper and stir through to coat everything well. Cook for 1 minute and then add the tomato paste to the bottom of the pot. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes.
If you are using your own chickpeas you can add them to the pot. I find that when I cook chickpeas myself, they retain their shape and bite even when cooked longer. If you are using canned chickpeas, you will add them in later. Your lentils are also added now. Give everything a good stir to coat with the spices and tomato paste.
Next add the tomatoes, broth, water or liquid from the chickpeas, the chopped stems of the parsley and/or cilantro. Don’t worry if there are some leaves in there as well. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. This can be done ahead.
When you are ready to eat, return the heat to a boil and add the noodles and canned chickpeas, if using. Simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and check your seasonings. The soup should be very thick, almost stew like. If you want it thinner then add more liquid. Add the juice of 1/2 of a lemon. Garnish with the chopped parsley/cilantro leaves.