Harira is to me what chicken soup is to many people. What do I mean with that? As grown-ups, when we need comforting, we make a subconscious connection to the food our mothers made for us. Harira is one of those dishes I turn to when I want comfort food.
There’s no single recipe for harira, just like there is not just one recipe for chicken soup. Recipes are often passed down from generation to generation and everyone claims to have the most authentic harira recipe. I like to believe there is not just one authentic recipe; every family has their own recipe that they turn to in need of comforting.
Some harira recipes add lots of spices, others are very simple. You can add beef, lamb or chicken to flavor the stock. You can aslo easily omit the meat stock and add vegetable stock for a vegetarian version. Growing up we would often eat harira during Ramadan with dates, or home-made stuffed bread (see below picture) or sweets. I know it may sound weird to eat something sweet with a soup, but somehow it works. Or, it may just be that I got accustomed to eating my harira with dates or other sweets because I was brought up with this combination. You know what: you try it, and let me know which one of the two it is.
I used to make harira a lot with my mum when I still lived at home. I would always ask her how many teaspoons of spices or herbs I had to use. She would laugh and tell me to just taste and add more if it needed it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t instilled with her instinct for balancing flavors back then. Of course I knew when something was too salty or too sour, but I wasn’t able to fix it yet.
I would always try to get it right and then let her do the final taste test. On rare occasions I would get it right. On most occasions however she would add more spices or a little bit of water (when I used too much seasoning). It made it impossible for me to write down a recipe. I always tried to use the same ‘recipe’ when I made it, but it would never taste the same.
To this day I haven’t been able to replicate my mum’s version of harira in my own kitchen. Maybe she added a secret ingredient she didn’t tell me about, maybe it’s the fact that it’s my mum’s recipe and therefore sacred………..who knows. I finally gave up trying and kept to my own version which was delicious too, it just wasn’t my mum’s.
Then one day I had a bowl of harira at my brothers’ place made by my sister-in-law Tima. It tasted very much like the one I was brought up with. It still didn’t taste exactly the same but somehow it came closer than my own version. Tima used ox tail for the stock where my mum uses other cuts of meat. Tima blitzed up the fresh herbs with the onions and tomatoes so her version was much smoother than my mum’s, who sautéed the diced onions and did not blitz them. Small differences but the taste was there.
My youngest sister Diza had watched Tima making the harira and wrote down the recipe. I asked her to send it to me so I could try it myself and see if I can replicate it in my own kitchen. Lo and behold (maybe ‘taste and behold’ is a better expression here): it tasted the same as the bowl of harira I ate at my brother’s house.
So that’s the recipe I share with you today. Unfortunately I can’t share my mum’s harira, but certainly a tried and favourite family recipe. I love it that by posting this recipe, I make sure my kids will always be able to make the harira recipe they were brought up with.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
- 2 red onion (sliced in 6 wedges or so, about 150gr)
- 25 gr parsley
- 25 gr fresh coriander
- 400 gr canned tomatoes
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 oxtail (as I usually keeping it veggie I often omit this)
- 500 ml vegetable stock
- 2 tsp Raz el Hanout (Moroccan spice mix)
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- pinch saffron
- 500 ml water (see instructions)
- 300 gr canned chickpeas
- 100 gr green lentils
- 100 gr vermicelli
- 2 tsp (corn)flour
- 1 lemon, cut in wedges for serving
Put the onion (sliced), coriander, parsley, tomatoes in a blender or food processor and blitz it up. Throw in the stems of the fresh herbs as well. They are going to be blitzed up anyway and the stems have so much flavor!
Put the olive oil in a pan, add the above mixture and let it simmer for 2 minutes. Then you add the meat (if you use any), the stock and all the other spices and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.
Then you add the water. I don’t measure the water, I do it by sight, add as much as you like. Let it simmer for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. You can check if it’s done by looking at the ox tail. The meat should be falling off the bone. If you don’t use the meat, then half an hour of simmering is enough.
When the meat is done you add the chickpeas and lentils, they only need 20 minutes to cook.
After 20 minutes add the vermicelli and cook it for another 8 minutes to cook the vermicelli.
Mix the flour or cornflour in a bowl with some cold water en stir well so there are no lumps in the mixture. If you are not sure all the lumps are gone, pass it through a sieve. Then you bring the soup to a full simmer and slowly- and in a thin stream – pour in the flour mixture. Stir constantly and keep the soup simmering so the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom. You will notice the soup beginning to thicken when you've used approximately half the flour mixture. The thickness of harira is up to you. Some like to thicken the broth so that it achieves a cream-like consistency. Make sure to let it simmer for at least 2/3 minutes to cook the flour otherwise your soup will taste like raw flour.
Taste and add salt and pepper when it needs it. If you have used salted stock, you don’t need to add (a lot of) salt.
Serve with a lemon wedge on the side to be drizzled on top when desired.