Since I now live in a Mediterranean climate I’ve started looking beyond the more common cuisines of that region and have fallen in love with Moroccan cooking. My first foray was to make a lamb tajine and I loved how slow cooking dried fruit like dates, figs and apricots provides a sweetness that tempers the spiciness typical of that dish. Clearly, drying fruit was the best way to preserve the harvest and transport it as the nomadic peoples of Northern African did for centuries until modern kitchens were invented.
Harira is best known as the dish that Muslims use to break their fast during the month of Ramadan and I can see why. With chick peas, lentils, pasta or another grain plus the spice of harissa and the tang of preserved lemons this is one stew that I could eat day in and day out.
This is one of those legume dishes where you really need to cook the chick peas from scratch because there’s a special ingredient for this stew that is added at that early stage of the process: cinnamon. Even if you think you are not a fan of cinnamon (as I think of myself) you need to trust the wisdom of generations of Moroccan cooks. The cinnamon is the bass note in this complexly flavored stew.
A final note: While I am a huge fan of substituting ingredients when you don’t have them or don’t want to spend the money on what seem like luxury gourmet items, it is so worth it to make your own harissa and preserved lemons if only to have them in your refrigerator for Moroccan dishes such as harira and tajines. Not only do they last indefinitely refrigerated but the depth of flavor that they add is unique. Making them at home requires very little investment of time or money and as the Northern hemisphere approaches citrus season this is the perfect time to make some preserved lemons to last the year! recipes for harissa and preserved lemon
Harira – Moroccan Chick Pea, Lentil and Tomato Stew
1 cup chick peas, soaked and cooked with 1/2 stick cinnamon, 2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
8 threads saffron, ground in mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups tomatoes (1/2 28 oz can)
1/3 cup brown lentils
2 cups water
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
1/4 cup Israeli Couscous (rice or pasta would also make good additions, cook accordingly)
To Add At the Table
Harissa (1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon added to individual bowls) or 2 teaspoons cayenne
Preserved lemon for garnish (1 to 1/2 tablespoon added to individual bowls) or lemon juice added to individual bowls to taste
Soak and cook chick peas with half stick of cinnamon and two bay leaves as instructed here. In sauce pan cook onion and ginger in olive oil over medium high heat until softened. Add cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron and salt and blend in, stirring to incorporate. Add cilantro, parsley, and tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Add water and bring to boil. Add lentils and Israeli Couscous and cook 20-25 minutes until both are tender. Add chick peas along with 1/2 cup reserved liquid and cayenne if not using harissa and simmer for 7-10 minutes. The harira should be more stew like than soupy. Add more water as needed or boil it away if there is too much. Remove from heat and serve with cilantro and lemon juice to pour if not using preserved lemon.