Eric Akis: A hearty, sustaining Moroccan-style vegetarian soup – Times Colonist

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On the menu today is a dish similar to harira, a Moroccan-style soup also enjoyed in other parts of North Africa. Harira can be served at any time of the year, but is especially associated with Ramadan, which occurs next month.
During Ramadan, Muslims will break their required sunrise-to-sunset fast with a food that’s sustaining, such as harira. Harira is prepared in different ways, but many recipes see a tomato-based soup enriched with nutritious lentils and chickpeas, vegetables, palate-warming spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric, and fresh herbs.
Broken vermicelli pasta or rice is also typically added to the soup to help thicken it as it cooks. Meat or poultry, such as lamb, beef or chicken, is also often incorporated into the soup.
My soup has many of those qualities but is meat-free, and the pulse I used was chickpeas, which contain protein, fibre, potassium, calcium, niacin, vitamin B6 and other good things.
It’s a very hearty, aromatic, nicely spiced soup that I topped with chopped cilantro, chopped parsley and crumbled feta cheese, and served with lemon wedges, for squeezing onto the soup at the table.
I used canned chickpeas in the soup, but in the recipe I have provided an option to use dried chickpeas, if that’s what you prefer.
Here’s a warmly spiced, hearty, sustaining soup that’s rich with nutritious chickpeas. Serve it with warm wedges of pita bread. Any leftover soup will freeze well.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes
Makes: four to six servings
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup diced onion (see Note)
3/4 cup diced carrot
3/4 cup diced celery
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp granulated sugar
5 cups vegetable stock
2 (14 oz./398 mL) can chickpeas, drained well, rinsed and drained again (see Eric’s options)
1 (14 oz./398 mL) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup long grain white rice
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• chopped cilantro and chopped parsley, to taste
• crumbled feta cheese, to taste (see Eric’s options)
• lemon wedges, for squeezing
Pour oil into a medium to large pot (mine was eight inches wide and six inches tall) and set over medium, medium-high heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook and stir until softened, about five minutes. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, tomato paste and sugar and cook and stir two minutes more. Now add stock, chickpeas, tomato and rice.
Bring soup to a gentle simmer, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain that simmer. Simmer soup, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes, until thickened by the rice and flavourful. Taste soup and season with salt and pepper, as needed.
Ladle soup into bowls, then top with cilantro, parsley and feta cheese, to taste. Serve each bowl of soup with a wedge of lemon and let diners squeeze its juice into the soup.
Note: Diced in this recipe means to cut into small 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes.
Eric’s options: If you want to use dried chickpeas for the soup instead of canned, set 2/3 cup dried chickpeas in a bowl, cover with a generous amount of cold water and soak eight hours, or overnight. Drain soaked chickpeas, then set in a pot. Add six cups of fresh cold water, set pot over medium-high heat and bring chickpeas to a boil.
Reduce heat until chickpeas gently simmer. Simmer chickpeas for 60 to 70 minutes, or until they are tender, but still nicely holding their shape. Drain chickpeas well and they are ready to use in the soup.
Instead of feta, top each soup with a dollop of thick yogurt. Or, if you can’t have dairy, replace the feta with a dairy-free, feta-style cheese sold at some grocery stores.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
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