This zesty harira recipe was taught to me by my mother-in-law, who was renowned among family and friends for her superb cooking. It yields a delicious, hearty soup which can be served as a light supper. It is particularly popular in Ramadan, when it is served to break the fast.
The recipe below will serve 6 to 8 people, and follows the pressure cooker method, which speeds up the cooking. To adapt cooking times for traditional simmering in a stockpot, read the Tips at the bottom of the page.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
- ½ lb. uncooked meat (lamb, beef or chicken), chopped into 1/2” pieces
- several soup bones (optional)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 bunch cilantro (coriander), finely chopped to yield about 1/4 cup
- 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped to yield about 1/4 cup
- 1 or 2 celery stalks with leaves, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, grated
- 1 handful of dry chick peas, soaked and then peeled
- 1 tablespoon smen (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric or ¼ teaspoon yellow colorant
- 6 large tomatoes (about 2 lb. or 1 kg), peeled, seeded and pureed
- 2 to 3 tbsp dry lentils, picked over and washed
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste, mixed evenly into 1 or 2 cups of water
- 2 to 3 tablespoons uncooked rice OR uncooked broken vermicelli
- 1 cup flour
Step 1 - Ahead of Time
Make sure you have all the ingredients. Do the following before you begin cooking the soup.
- Soak and skin the chickpeas. (You might want to soak them the night before you cook.)
- Pick through the lentils and wash them.
- Peel, seed and puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Or, stew the tomatoes and pass them through a food mill to remove the seeds and skin.
- Pick the parsley and cilantro leaves from their stems. Small pieces of stem are OK, but discard long, thick pieces with no leaves. Wash the herbs, drain well, and finely chop them by hand or with a food processor.
Assemble the remaining ingredients and follow the steps below.
Step 2 - Brown the Meat
Put the meat, soup bones and oil into a 6-qt. or larger pressure cooker. Over medium heat, cook the meat for a few minutes, stirring to brown all sides.
Step 3 - Make the Stock
Add the cilantro, parsley, celery, onion, chick peas, tomatoes, smen and spices. Stir in 3 cups of water.
Cover tightly, and heat over high heat until pressure is achieved. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and release the pressure.
Step 4 – Make the Soup
Add the lentils, tomato paste mixture, and 2 quarts (or about 2 liters) of water to the stock.
Set aside (but don’t add yet), either the rice or vermicelli.
Cover the pot and heat the soup over high heat until pressure is achieved. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking.
If adding rice: Cook the soup on pressure for 30 minutes. Release the pressure, and add the rice. Cover, and cook with pressure for an additional 15 minutes.
If adding vermicelli: Cook the soup on pressure for 45 minutes. Release the pressure, and add the vermicelli. Simmer the soup, uncovered, for five to ten minutes or until the vermicelli is plump and cooked.
Step 5 – Thicken the Soup
While the soup is cooking, mix together the 1 cup of flour with 2 cups of water. Set the mixture aside, and stir or whisk it occasionally. The flour will eventually blend with the water. If the mixture is not smooth when you're ready to use it, pass it through a sieve to remove balls.
Once the rice (or vermicelli) has cooked, taste the soup for seasoning. Add salt or pepper if desired.
Bring the soup to a full simmer. 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. How thick to make harira is your own preference. I like to thicken the broth so that it achieves a cream-like consistency.
Simmer the thickened soup, stirring occasionally, for five to ten minutes to cook off the taste of the flour. Remove the soup from the heat.Serves 6 to 8.
Tips for Making Harira
- If the meat had a lot of fat, expect to see some foaming as you simmer the thickened soup. Skim off the foam and discard it.
- As harira cools in the pot, it’s common for a skin to form. Simply stir to blend the skin back into the soup.
- A small wedge of lemon may be served as a garnish; its juice may be squeezed into the bowl of harira.
- When reheating harira, don’t bring it to a boil. Heat over medium heat and stir frequently to avoid lentils sticking to the bottom.
- Preparation Shortcut: Chop your cilantro, parsley and celery together in a food processor or blender. Add the peeled and seeded tomatoes, and blend until well-pureed. Add the onion and process until the onion is reduced to small pieces. Proceed with making the stock.
- Thickening with Egg: In place of flour and water, two or three beaten eggs may be used to thicken harira. (If desired, beat the eggs with 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice.) Add the eggs in a thin stream to the simmering soup, stirring constantly. You will see some cooked strands of eggs in the soup as it thickens.
- Prep and Freeze: If you plan to cook harira frequently, it’s helpful to prep large amounts of key ingredients in advance. Soak and peel chickpeas; drain well before freezing. Chop an ample supply of parsley, cilantro and celery; measure the mixed herbs by soup bowlfuls and freeze. Peel, seed and stew tomatoes; puree and freeze in 1 kg (about 2 lb.) batches.
Traditional Stockpot Method
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, use a 6- or 8-qt. stockpot. Follow the directions above, but adjust the cooking time as follows:
- In Steps 3 and 4, partially cover the pot, bring to a simmer and cook for double the suggested pressure cooking times. Watch the level of the liquids, particularly in Step 3; you can add a little more water if you feel it's necessary.
- Proceed with thickening the soup in Step 5 according to the recipe, or try the egg thickening method in the Tips above.