This year a few of my co-workers and I did a Secret Santa gift exchange. Last year we did a White Elephant gift exchange, which involved buying a random gift and wrapping it, drawing numbers, and then having each person select a random gift and open it in order, according to the number they had drawn. Gift openers later in the game were allowed to “steal” any previously opened gift. The object of that gift exchange is really just fun and amusement, and many people ended up with a gift that wasn’t necessarily particularly useful. This year’s exchange was a bit more personal, involving just the traditional Secret Santa rules, where the participants draw names and bring a gift for that specific person.
My Secret Santa got me a foodie gift – how very appropriate! Secret Santa – whose identity was revealed at the time of gifting – indicated that he noted a lack of Moroccan cooking on the blog, so this gift is an opportunity for me to broaden my ethnic cooking horizons. I’ve tried my hand at many different types of world cuisine on the blog – Asian, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Greek – but no Moroccan!
Now I have a new Moroccan cookbook (purportedly the go-to cookbook of its kind in the US) along with two essential Moroccan spices. Saffron is a spice with which I am familiar but have never used myself – the stuff is pricy! The reason it is a valuable spice is because it consists of small strands which are the stigmas of a crocus flower, and each flower produces only three stigmas. So, as you might imagine, a large degree of labor goes into growing, cultivating, and preparing the stigmas for use as a dried spice.
My other spice, with which I am less familiar, is called ras el hanout. My cookbook had a very interesting article about ras el hanout, which indicated that it is actually a blend of spices, typically ten to twenty-six, but possibly even over one hundred! Some of the common spices one might find in a ras el hanout are allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric, blended with other, much rarer spices, that might only be found in Morocco, such as Belladonna leaves, or even beetles (!!!).
I selected a recipe to try today, which happened to be the first day of my holiday vacation! Harira is one of the soups offered at one of my favorite restaurants, Palm Palace, which serves both Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes. I’ve actually never ordered the Harira, but understood that it was a type of Moroccan lentil stew. Given my love for soup, I decided to give this Harira recipe a try.
The Harira recipe called for a pinch of saffron, which gave me the opportunity to try a new spice.
Into my Le Creuset oven went:
- Butter (used in place of “smen,” an aged, cooked butter that is clarified by straining out all the milk fats, which sounds similar the Indians’ “ghee”)
- Yellow onion
- Chopped celery stalk and leaves
- Spices, shown below. I greatly reduced the amount of turmeric, based on personal preference. I was a little bit nervous about the full teaspoon of cinnamon!
This veggie and spice mixture smelled quite heavenly! The spice blend actually reminded me of the scent of Ahmo’s lentil-studded rice, which tastes so good – so that was a good sign.
Next in went diced tomatoes (these are from my parents’ garden, from my freezer!), and then I let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes.
Next, I added lentils, water, and canned chickpeas. I should mentioned that I omitted the lamb called for by the recipe in this dish.
I also reduced the amount of water, because of the lack of lamb and the fact that used canned (cooked) chickpeas, rather than dry ones that would absorb large quantities of water. Also, I enjoy nice thick, hearty soups!
After an hour and a half, the soup looked like this, and I tossed in a handful of egg noodles (in place of fine soup noodles, since I didn’t have any), and let them cook for about 8 minutes.
The final step was to stir in a mixture of eggs and lemon juice that had been whisked together, and to stir rapidly to thicken the soup and form long, fine egg strands in the soup. I tasted the soup before and after adding the lemon/egg mixture, and loved how the lemon juice brightened the dish right up! I also found that I needed to add a lot of salt to this dish.
Not very pretty, but it tasted delicious! The saffron did in fact contribute to brightening up the color of this soup – without it, I can imagine it would look even more drab. This Moroccan Harira was very hearty, filling, and had a nice depth of flavor from the number of spices that were added and allowed to simmer for an extended period of time.
Next time I’ll have to make some Moroccan bread to serve with dinner.