Fast-breaking soup: Harira

The Middle Eastern soup Harira has cropped up in several of the different cookbooks and magazines that I’ve been reading lately. It’s a thick, near solid, nourishing soup (it can be so thick that it’s close to getting called a stew!) which was traditionally served to break the Muslim fast during the month of Ramadan but what drew me to it was the fact that it combines both chickpeas and lentils – two of my favourite ingredients. Most recipes also include lamb but, due to my lack of funds when I made this, my soup was almost vegetarian, save for the chicken stock.

The most expensive ingredient in this soup is the delicate saffron – the hand-picked stamens of a certain type of crocus – but it is worth going for broke with this spice as any cheap powdered options are unlikely to be true saffron. Saffron is actually grown in Canterbury by the personable Errol Hitt of Eight Moon Saffron. Earlier this year, under the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship, Errol travelled to eight countries in eight weeks to research saffron around the world. You can buy his saffron in vials of 90 pistils for about NZ$10 but, as you only need a few threads at a time, it is an investment well worth making, especially if you’re interested in making this delicious soup.

Harira is the perfect antidote to all the wintry Irish weather that everyone, since I announced that I was going home in November, takes great delight in telling me about. Here in New Zealand I’m just getting into a whole variety of salads, based on leaves – mizuna, rocket, mustard – from the garden but still, I don’t think I’ll mind wind, rain and cold so much if I’m after a few bowls of Harira!

Saffron threads – 10
Boiling water – ¼ cup
Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
Onions – 2, chopped
Ground cinnamon – 1 teaspoon
Ground cumin – 1 teaspoon
Ground ginger – 1 teaspoon
Canned chopped tomatoes – 2 cans
Chicken stock – 4 cups
Cooked chickpeas – 2 cups
Brown lentils – ½ cup
Lemon – 1, squeezed
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Fresh coriander – ½ cup, chopped

Infuse the saffron threads in the boiling water and leave for at least five minutes.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion over a low heat until softened but not browned. Add the cinnamon, cumin and ginger and fry for one minute. Add the saffron liquid, tomatoes, stock and chickpeas to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes then add the lentils, simmering for another 30 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked.

Stir in the lemon juice and season to taste. Sprinkle the coriander over just before serving.

Serves 6.


Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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