Our last Bibliofemme bookclub – for The Rum Diaries by Hunter S Thompson – was held at my flat on a rapidly-darkening autumn evening. The previous evening had been cold and dreary as I walked home from my webmaster course so I decided to start a soup, leave it sit overnight, and then finish it off as the girls arrived. I’d recently come across Julie Le Clerk‘s version of Harira in an old copy of Cuisine so this was a good opportunity to try it out. I had made a meatless version of this last year in Christchurch but this time round I had plans for a complete meal in a bowl, stuffed with lamb, lentils, chickpeas and, after a look at Claudia Roden’s version of the fast-breaking soup, haricot beans.
This is really one of those soups best made the night before you need it as the flavour improves so much by the spices having a chance to infuse the other ingredients overnight. And that makes life a lot easier if you have people coming round too. All you have to do as your guests arrive (or while one of them hoovers the floor – many thanks to the Connoisseur!) is reheat the soup, put a few warmed flatbreads or pita breads on the table and a bowl of natural yoghurt and just let everybody help themselves. This cauldron of Harira fed the six Bibliofemmers as well as a hungry – and very outnumbered! – Boyfriend, everyone taking their own soup from the table to their seat where we alternately juggled bowls and the two babies that had also turned up. Filling, suitably autumnal and – most importantly – hassle free!
Saffron threads – 10
Boiling water – ½ cup
Olive oil – 2 tablespoons
Stewing lamb – 200g, roughly chopped into small cubes
Onions – 3, chopped
Ground cinnamon – 2 teaspoons
Ground cumin – 2 teaspoons
Ground ginger – 2 teaspoons
Canned chopped tomatoes – 3 cans
Chicken stock – 6 cups
Cooked chickpeas – 3 cups
Cooked haricot beans – 2 cups
Brown lentils – 1 cup
Lemon – 1, squeezed
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Soak the saffron threads in the boiling water and leave to stand while you prepare the rest of the soup.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and quickly brown the lamb all over. Remove from the pan and leave to one side.
Heat the rest of the oil and cook the onion over a low heat until softened but not browned. Add the cinnamon, cumin and ginger and fry for one minute. Pour the saffron liquid, tomatoes and stock into the pan, adding the chickpeas and haricot beans at the same time and bring to the boil.
Simmer for 40 minutes then add the lentils, simmering for another 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked.
At this point I took the pan off the heat and allowed it to sit overnight. The next afternoon, I heated it up over a low heat, adding lemon juice and seasoning to taste.
Served with warmed Arabic flatbreads or pita breads and dollops of natural yoghurt it feeds 6 bookclub members plus one Boyfriend.
Adapted from Julie Le Clerc’s recipe for Harira in Cuisine, September 2004.