I believe I couldn’t live without lentil soup. I love lentils, in any shape or form. This Moroccan Lentil Soup, and my Indian Red Lentil Soup, are among my favorite.
This Moroccan Lentil Soup is indelibly engraved in my memory as part of my childhood, and its name alone conjures up lovely scenes. The streets of Morocco are flooded with the heady aromas emanating from this wonderful lentil soup, Harira, during the whole month of Ramadan, and it is a delight to see everybody hurrying home to the dinner that awaits them after those long fast days. Every year I made a batch of lentil soup for one of our Manager Karim, at Levana Restaurant, during Ramadan. Seeing his eyes light up at the sight of the beloved brew is proof, every time, that being far from home is not so hard to bear if one can be reunited, however occasionally, with his comfort foods.
Sephardi Jews like to make lentil soup during the week of Tish’a B’av, the commemoration of the Temple’s destruction. Recently, I was making lentil soup during the fast day of Tish’a B’av when my son Yakov called me, at around noon, from California where he was spending the summer. “How is your fast going?” I asked him. “Pretty good,” he answered. “It has just started. It’s only nine in the morning!” Less than five minutes later, my daughter, who was spending the summer as a counselor at a camp in Israel, called to say hello. I asked her how her fast was going. “Oh, Mommy,” she said, “I have a terrible headache! Thank G-d it’s almost over. It’s about seven in the evening. Just a couple hours left!” I had just spanned a whole day in a flash, thanks to my globetrotting children.
We grew up eating this soup. All my favorite flavors are in, and I make it totally meatless, so I can enjoy it a lot more often, the vegetarian way (scroll down for the meat variation). Costs pennies and takes minutes, and tastes like a million bucks: You just can’t miss with these assertive flavors! It is also very versatile: Using the exact same base, you might want to substitute other grains for the lentils, just as long as they need no soaking and don’t take longer to cook (barley, azuki, brown rice, mung, etc) All variations suggested below, except for the bulghur soup) are gluten-free.
- 2 large onions, quartered
- 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 1 bunch cilantro, tough end stems cut off
- 6 ribs celery, peeled
- 4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- 1∕3 cup olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 3 quarts (12 cups) water
- 2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 cups green or brown lentils
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- Ground pepper to taste
In a food processor, finely grind the onion, parsley, cilantro, and celery. Transfer the mixture to a heavy wide-bottom pot. Add the tomatoes, oil, salt, water, turmeric and lentils. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium and cook covered for 1 hour, or a little longer, until the lentils are perfectly tender and the soup looks thick and creamy. Stir in the cumin, lemon juice and ground pepper, and cook just five more minutes. Adjust the texture and seasonings. Makes a dozen ample servings.
- Buckwheat, bulgur, teff, steel-cut oat, or millet soup
These grains take only a few minutes to cook. Proceed with the recipe just as above, substituting 2 cups of the suggested grain for the lentils, but with one change: Add them in the last 20 minutes of cooking.
- Making the soup with meat.
Harira made this way constitutes the whole meal, with good bread and salad. Cook 3 1/2 pounds chunks shoulder cut beef or lamb and a few meaty bones, in 4 quarts of water, in a large wide bottom pot, for 2 hours. Then proceed exactly as instructed above. The liquid in the pot is your liquid for the soup (meaning, no water as instructed in the ingredient list), and the meat will continue to cook, together with the soup ingredients.