Harira Soup

David Tanis’s A Platter of Figs is one of my favorite cookbooks.  I love the simple but completely original mediterranean-themed food, the organization of the book by seasons, the pre-set menus with each recipe strong enough to stand on its own, and the emphasis on hospitality that runs throughout.  Absolutely one of my favorite cookbooks.

Everything I’ve made so far–from mustard rabbit to ricotta-tomato crostini–has been an unqualified success.  And now, harira soup (made with lamb stew meat picked up at Drumlin Farm).  Delicious.  Also, typical humble food–this recipe stretches a pound of inexpensive meat into a soup that can serve 8-10 people.  (In our case, several lunches and frozen meals for the future).

Sauteeing the meat and spices (saffron, turmeric, ground chile, cinnamon, ginger, pepper).

Simmering the soup, thickened with a slurry of flour and water.

No soup stock needed, just water.  I always worry about a bland soup when no stock is used, but here there is no lack of flavor.  A pound of stewing meat, rounded out by lentils and beans (I used garbanzos rather than the recommended dried favas).  Perfect comfort food, satisfying, flavorful.  I only wish that I’d had some preserved lemons on hand for the finishing touch.

Harira Soup (adapted from David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs)

  • 2T olive oil
  • 1 lb stewing lamb cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2t crumbled saffron
  • 1t ginger
  • 1t cinnamon
  • 1t turmeric
  • 1t pepper
  • 2t powdered hot chile
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1c dried garbanzos, soaked overnight
  • 1c red lentils
  • 12 c water
  • salt
  • one 28 ounce can tomatoes (or 6 fresh)
  • 1/4c dried parsley (1 c fresh)
  • 1/4c dried cilantro (1c fresh)
  • 1/3c all-purpose flour
  • lemon

Heat the oil and brown the meat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent.  Add the saffron, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, pepper, ground chile, and garlic, and cook for two minutes.  Add the beans, lentils, and 11c of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for an hour and a half.   Add the drained canned tomatoes, parsley, and cilantro.  Puree half of the soup and return to the pot.  Simmer for another half hour (or longer).  The soup should cook for a minimum of two hours, but is enhanced by longer cooking.  About ten minutes before serving, whisk the flour into the remaining cup of water, and then stir into the soup.  Simmer for another ten minutes to allow the flour-water mixture to thicken the broth.  Serve garnished with lemon and cilantro (if using fresh).


The Spice is Right

The Spice is RightI decided to look though the old Gourmet magazines I had been saving–I knew there were some things in there that looked interesting but which I never got around to as it was during the craziness of E just being born, and really before I started cooking much again which was only a few months ago.  A perfect example was the February 2008 issue–it included an Algerian menu called The Spice is Right–using a lot of winter ingredients such as turnips and fennel, so I thought it would be perfect.  I dropped a few things from the menu, just because it was a big enough undertaking to only do some of the items–specifically the shrimp and beignets, though they would be nice to try another time.  I almost left off the Algerian flatbread after reading through the recipe–when I saw I would have to roll out 12 flatbreads (twice) I nearly gave up but I’m so glad I didn’t. By twice I mean first you roll it into a 9 inch round and brush it with spiced oil, then you roll it up into a spiral and roll it out again.  This swirls the spiced oil into the finished bread round.  Then you cook them on a hot griddle.  They are absolutely delicious piping hot and I would certainly make them again, if it fit in the menu. 

Here’s some pictures of the process:

Algerian Flatbread 2Cooking the Flabread

The tagine recipe was great as well–very lightly fragrant, and not too fruity–just a hint, which was perfect.  My husband liked “all the fat in the sauce”–and the leftover sauce did solidify into a jelly, so there’s no exaggeration there.  Rather than saving the chicken backs and wings for stock, you cook them in the tagine with the rest of the meat and discard before serving.  I’m not sure if this upped the fat, but I bet it contributed to the great flavor.

The other great discovery from this meal was the turnips.  I’m probably not the only one who finds it hard to get excited about this vegetable.  I think without the poppy seed topping this wouldn’t have been quite so delicious, I think they saved it from utter boringness.  Plus this was really easy.  I used a special variety of turnip they were selling at Whole Foods which was a Cape Cod or local variety–very large and green topped–I forget the name.  (Interesting that I couldn’t even find turnips at the other grocery store–funny that these winter “staple” vegetables are “high end” these days).


The dessert was interesting–I didn’t have high hopes for tangerines in syrup but it was a fun way to make something special out of a fruit you usually casually eat as a snack.  I also made the fennel carrot slaw, which was fine, but let’s just say that’s the only leftover at this point.


Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Spiced Pinenuts

Algerian Flatbread

Braised Turnips with Poppy Seed Bread Crumbs

Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Olive Dressing

Clementines in Ginger Syrup