Monday, 29 September 2008

Harira: An Algerian take on the Ramadan-fast-breaking soup

I find foods with cultural significance irresistible. And feast time foods especially so. In the 10 months I've had this blog I've waxed lyrical about the foods of Christmas, the Japanese New Year (Oshogatsu) and Persian New Year (No Ruz). What special foods mean to people is endlessly fascinating.

Although I've made a Moroccan version of the Ramadan fast-breaking soup harira before, the cultural element was missing. I was overjoyed, then, to find 64 sq ft kitchen, a gorgeous Algerian food blog by Warda, who writes deliciously and evocatively about what it is like to grow up in a household where lively ritual after-dark feasting occurs for a whole month of the year! (Many first-hand accounts suggest to me anyway that Ramadan should more rightly be called the Islamic feasting rather than fasting month!)

Warda even has a version of harira on her blog, and it is perfect. The soup is rich, despite the tiny amount of meat it contains, the spicing heady, but not overpowering, and the dersa fresh herb and spice topping invigorating. The sum of this soup is so much more than its parts. A blend of fresh coriander leaves, garlic, paprika and caraway (or, in my case mistakenly dill seed), the dersa was particularly intriguing. Googling hasn't provided much insight, but I'll keep you posted if I find out more about this mouth-popping Algerian "salsa".

The use of caraway in Warda's harira intrigued me. In all my years of cooking Middle Eastern food, this was the first time I had call to use this particular spice. But using it this once seems to have opened the floodgates, as just about every recipe I've looked at since has contained the seed! It was in my little list of spice names in Persian (so it's obviously used in Iran), and in several Iraqi recipes in Delights from the Garden of Eden, which I picked up again for a good read.

But back to the harira. I made it with less water than Warda called for, thinking it looked about right for the goodies in the pot, but pureeing the veggies and the addition of bulghur later really thickened the soup up, so my meddling really wasn't required (g). Unusually for me, I even made my beans from scratch, rather than flinging ones I'd cooked and frozen earlier in at the end (I really hate canned legumes, whatever family and friends might tell me). My contribution is to change the measures to metric and adjust the recipe for the pressure cooker.

We had this with bread and just one appetizer and empty bowls and suddenly-too-tight jeans were evidence enough that this recipe is a winner. Definitely try it!

Harira: Fragrant Chickpea and Lamb soup with Bulgur

Serves 6 to 8

1 1/2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight
300 g stewing lamb, cut into 1 cm chunks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly diced
1 potato, peeled and roughly diced
1 tomato, roughly diced
3 carrots, peeled and roughly diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro [S: coriander], tied with a string
1 generous tsp of allspice
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground
2,000 ml water
1 sprig of mint (5 big leaves)
¾ cup wheat bulgur
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

For the dersa: (fresh herb and spice topping)
3 tbsp cilantro [coriander] leaves
½ tsp ground paprika
2 fat clove garlic, chopped very finely
1 tsp ground caraway

1 In a large pressure cooker, heat the oil on medium heat. Season the lamb chunks and sauté them on each sides until browned. Add the onions, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and chickpeas. Sauté until lightly colored, about 5 minutes. Add the spices, the bunch of cilantro and the tomato paste, and stir to combine. Cover with the water. Season the soup with a generous amount of salt and pepper, cover and bring to pressure. Once the soup comes to pressure, lower the heat and cook for 6 minutes, or until the chickpeas are cooked and the meat fork tender.

2 Discard the cilantro bunch and the stick of cinnamon. Place the meat and chickpeas on a plate, and, using a vegetable mill or stick blender, puree all the rest of the vegetables. You can also use a regular blender, but you will have to do it in batches, as the liquid is very hot.

3 Put the soup back in the pressure cooker. Add the chickpeas and the scattered meat. Bring to the boil and add the mint sprig and the bulgur. Stir to distribute the bulgur. Cover and bring to pressure again. Cook under low pressure for 5 minutes, or until the bulgur is cooked. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

4 Before serving the soup, make the dersa: Using a sharp knife, or even a mortar would be great, finely chop the cilantro [coriander] leaves and mix with the garlic, paprika and ground caraway.

4 Serve the harira in individual bowls, topped with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of dersa.



Anonymous said...

this recepy sounds delicious but the picture looks nasty

Saffron said...

Thanks for the feedback.

Making fabulous food look fabulous is not always easy, particularly when tummies are rumbling and dinner is cooling down on the table getting photographed!

This recipe is truly sensational. Please give it a try and let us know how you go!