Harira is a traditional soup in Moroccan cuisine that is customarily served as the first food to break the daily fast observed by Muslims during the month of Ramadan. The soup is served throughout Morocco and many versions exist, but the ingredients that characterize it are the combination of lentils and chickpeas, broth, tomato, onion, ginger, cinnamon, saffron and pepper. Meat is a common addition, as is flour or beaten eggs to thicken the broth. At Ramadan, the soup is often served along with dried and fresh fruit, pastries, hard-boiled eggs and milk, juice or coffee.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and most adult Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day during that month. A large evening meal is served to offset the daytime fasting, but in Morocco it is traditional to serve a lighter meal of harira, drinks, fruits and pastries immediately after sundown and the larger meal later. Harira is also sometimes eaten in the early morning before the day’s fast begins.
Like most traditional dishes, harira has countless regional and family variations. Particularly common is the addition of lemon juice along with beaten eggs. Although meat is not the centerpiece of the soup it is usually used and may be chicken, lamb or, less often, beef. Potatoes, rice or noodles are common additions. One traditional way to prepare the soup uses a small piece of a Moroccan type of sourdough starter as the thickening agent, which also adds a sour quality to the broth.
Vegetables sometimes used include spinach, carrots, celery, scallions or spring onions. Spices reflect the wide variety used in North African cooling and, in addition to the basic ginger, cinnamon, saffron and pepper can include coriander, parsley, mint, cilantro, cumin, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, paprika, turmeric and chili power. Smen, a salted, preserved butter much like ghee, is a frequent addition and adds a distinctive flavor that resembles Parmesan cheese.
The traditional preparation of harira is a lengthy process due to the number of ingredients and time required to cook it. Dried lentils and chickpeas must be soaked and the tough skins removed from the chickpeas. Using canned chickpeas eliminates the most time-consuming part of that process. There are many vegetables and spices to be prepared, and some cooks will do that part of the preparation beforehand and freeze the ingredients. Harira cooks well in a slow cooker, which reduces the need to watch it as it cooks.