Thursday, March 7, 2013

Moroccan Cooking 101: Harira!

If you've kept up with this blog or with my Facebook albums, then you may know that I have tried to embrace the extra time that life in the Peace Corps has afforded us to engage in many activities: from traveling to gardening (update: we have a few sprouts!!), from music to exercising, to perhaps most importantly, cooking. I've spent lots of time learning to cook and bake with fresh and healthy ingredients and I've learned many new techniques in the kitchen (if you're interested, I keep an ongoing cookbook which you can download here).

But as much as I've learned about cooking many different types of foods, surprisingly I haven't cooked a lot of Moroccan food! I think because we eat Moroccan food when we visit other people in the community (which happens fairly often), I haven't felt the need to spend time cooking traditional dishes in our house. But recently I've had several female friends who have tried to teach me some of the typical dishes made here. I've done well cooking alongside them, but had yet to try anything on my own. UNTIL TODAY!!! And HOLY HARIRA, this stuff is GREAT!! 

Chickpeas and lentils and chicken and amazing spices.... so good!

I present to you my first (and hopefully not last) successful Moroccan cooking endeavor! Harira is a very traditional tomato-based soup, often eaten during Ramadan to break the day's fast. There are many variations between recipes, some of which I noted in my recipe below. It's quite a long cooking extravaganza, made a bit shorter with the use of a blender and a pressure cooker, but for me it was well worth it. I made mine a bit thicker and chunkier than what I've eaten in other homes but I'm not gonna lie, it's one of the best I've eaten. If you make it, please let me know what you think!!

Serves 6-8 people (depending on how much you pile in the bowl!)

1/2 lb of raw chicken with bones (I recommend removing the skin)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped (I used a blender for this)
1 large onion, grated
1 handful of dry chickpeas, soaked overnight
6 large tomatoes, peeled/cored/pureed (I used a blender for this)
Spices: 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1-1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp salt, 1/2 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp dry lentils, sorted and washed
3 tbsp tomato paste mixed into 1-1/2 cup water
3 tbsp uncooked rice (you can also use vermicelli noodles but the cooking times may vary a bit)
1/2 cup flour

1) Soak chickpeas overnight, then rinse and drain. To prepare ingredients before you begin cooking, do the following: Sort/wash lentils. Peel, core, and puree tomatoes in a blender. Chop parsley and cilantro finely. Puree celery in a blender. 
2) In a large bowl, combine the finely chopped cilantro, finely chopped parsley, pureed celery, grated onion, drained chickpeas, pureed tomatoes, and spices.
3) Put the chicken into the bottom of a large pressure cooker. Brown on medium heat for 2-3 minutes (you can use a little vegetable oil if you'd like to keep it from sticking, but if there's some fat on the chicken you should be fine without it).
4) Add mixture from #2 along with 3 cups of water. Cover with pressure cooker top and turn heat to high until pressure is reached. Then reduce heat to medium and cook 20-30 minutes.
5) Release pressure. Add lentils, tomato paste mixture, and 4 cups water (if you want thinner soup, you can add a bit more water here). Cover again with pressure cooker top and turn heat to high until pressure is reached again. Then reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 more minutes.
6) Release pressure and add uncooked rice. Cover again with the pressure cooker top and turn heat to high until pressure is reached again. Then reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes.
7) In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup flour with 1 cup water. Be sure to whisk it well and check the bottom of the bowl to make sure that all of the flour blends together.
8) After 15 minutes on pressure, release pressure. Taste and season if needed with salt and pepper (I didn't need to add anything). Reduce heat to a constant simmer. Pour in the flour/water mixture slowly and in a thin stream, while stirring constantly to thicken the soup to your preference. It should thicken very quickly. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
9) Enjoy it!! And save some extra for me :)

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