We regularly have an identity crisis with dishes, turning traditional fare on its head, ‘Beach House-ing’ things you could say. We don’t mean it, no offence to the original recipes and food heritage in question, its just we like to play in the kitchen. Here’s another traditional recipe we have messed about with, thankfully the results were rather delicious.
The best harira I have ever had was for breakfast (regularly) in the village of Chefchaeoun, known to many a traveller for its exceptional soup, jalaba (hooded cloak garment worn by most Moroccans) production and wonderful mountain location. Its small winding streets hide many a wonderful eating experience, rows of blue houses (yes blue!) make this one of the most distinctive and stunning villages in that vast old land.
I moved there for a while, took up residence in a room situated on the walls of the Hamam (the communal bath), the warmest room in town. You see its high up there and you wake chilled to the bone and needing a serious bowl of spicy sustenance. Abdullah provided.
He was a wonderful cook, in nothing more than a space between two buildings, a few squat tables and two gas burners with huge steel pots, Abdullah created the authentic Moroccan dining experience for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was like a French Bistro without the pretense and price tag. My kind of joint for sure.
For a few pennies, Abdullah would dish you up an epic bowl of full-on morning ammunition, sometimes with a tooth-less smile that shifted the early morning fug. This hearty soup fuelled me on many a hike around the Rif Mountains and also on days spent lounging around playing card games with other punks holed up there. It came with a wedge of steaming flat bread, fruity olive oil and a small bowl of freshly ground cumin to use liberally. I sat wearing my Jalaba (the over enthusiastic tourist that I am) eating with the local men in silence, canteen style. No women. In Morocco cafes and restaurants seem to be a male only thing.
I like cooking soups, its a soulful pursuit. You don’t have to be to precious, there are rules, but not many, a little like Morocco itself. This is the situation where I feel nice and comfortable.
Add just 2 cups of water to make this a hearty stew.
As with all soups/ stews, depending on the quality of your veggies, you many need to add some vegetable stock if the flavour is thin on the ground.
Here’s to you Abdullah. Peace be with you. Hamdullah!
The Bits – For 4 bowls
1 1/2 cup dried chickpeas (soaked and cooked)
750ml fresh water (or vegetable stock)
1 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger (finely diced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 large onion (finely diced)
1 yellow pepper (diced)
3 ripe tomatoes (with flavour)
3 cups chopped rainbow chard (stems separated from the leaves)
1 teas ground turmeric
1 1/2 teas smoked paprika
1/2 teas ground cinnamon
2 teas cumin seeds
3 tbs tomato paste
1 lemon (cut into wedges)
2 tbs gram flour (or flour of your choice)
1 handful fresh coriander leaves (leaves picked, stems chopped)
1 cup red lentils
3 dates (finely chopped)
1 teas fresh ground pepper
2 teas sea salt
Soak your chickpeas overnight in a saucepan. Drain and refresh with new water, well covered. Add 1/4 teas bicarb of soda (this makes them soft and cook quicker), bring to a boil and lower heat. Vigorously simmer for 20 minutes or until chickpeas are tender.
Warm the oil in a thick bottomed sauce pan, add your onions and cumin seeds and saute the onions for a few minutes until glassy, add garlic, pepper and ginger, stir for a couple of minutes and then add all chard stems (add earlier if they are a little tough), flour and spices, stir and warm through for a minute and now add your tomatoes, dates, lentils, tomato paste, warm through for a minute then add your water/ chickpea juice. Bring to a rolling boil and turn down heat to the lowest setting, add your chickpeas and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.
When ready to serve, bring back to just about boiling, add your chard leaves and coriander stems. Re-cover and allow to cook for a few minutes. Check seasoning.
A lemon wedge, topped with coriander leaves and a good glug of good olive oil. Add green olives and brown rice to the table if you’d like to make this dinner.
For a special touch, we have it sprinkled with roasted and chopped almonds.
We Love It!
With winter lurking up the hill, we are getting back to our hearty soups. Harira is definately one of our fav’s and it is very cool when you have pleasant memories attached to a dish. Food has amazing transporting properties, the sights and tastes so evocative and alive in memories.
Spices are much more than just incredible tasting, the vast majority boast some quite brilliant health properties (as long as we don’t burn them in the pan).
Turmeric is a root similar to ginger and in its raw state has very potent flavour, its wonderful stuff. Dried is the best we can normally do on this island. It is peppery and sweet, warm and bitter and has even been likened to orange peel (if very fresh indeed).
Now the nitty gritty and real magic. Turmeric is anti-microbial, anti-flatulent and strongly anti-bacterial. POW!