Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

This is a great recipe I found on epicurious.com when I cooked dinner party for my aunt and uncle and some of my cousins.  (If you haven’t checked out http://www.epicurious.com/, do it!  It’s a go-to favorite of mine and it’s just loaded with great tasting and expertly tested recipes.) I wanted to create a special theme on the night and make food that had amazing flavor and stories to go with it.  I thought, what a better place to start than the cradle of civilization, the Persian Empire?  I’m so glad I did too, because it sparked a deep interest and passion in me to cook and prepare ancient foods that’s been satisfying both appetite wise, and from a culinary anthropology point of view too.  I think to love cooking is to really love people and to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of cultures all over the world.

With the Harira I also served homemade falafal, hummus, stuffed grape leaves and a pistachio tarte.  These dishes were all brand new to my family and though the flavors of the evening were wildly out of their comfort zones, I think they enjoyed it.  I know my dad did, but then he’s always been VERY adventurous and fearless when it comes to food!

Okay, enough story telling, here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas (you can also used canned of course, @ 2 cans should work fine)
8 cups water
1 (35oz) can whole tomatoes, drained (I also use fresh plum tomatoes)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small celery rib (including leaves), finely chopped
3 TBS unsalted butter
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup lentils
2 oz dried capellini, broken into 1 inch pieces, or fine egg noodles (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Prepare chickpeas: soak chickpeas in water to cover by 2 inches for 8-12 hours.  (You can also “cheat” like I often do and bring @ 8cups water to a boil and then soak the chickpeas covered (or whatever bean you’re using for that particularl recipe) in the water for @ 1 hour.  Rinse and drain then put in a pressure cooker and fill the pressure cooker no more than 1/2 with cold water.  Check the chickpeas after @ 25 minutes and see if they are done.  They should be cooked through but not mushy)

Drain chickpeas and rinse well.  Transfer to a large saucepan and add 8 cups water.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until tender, @ 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.  Cool chickpeas and drain, reserving the liquid.  you should have @ 2 1/2 cups liquid (if not, add more water).

Coarsely puree tomatoes in a  food processor.

Cook onion and celery in butter in a 4 quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally until softened.  Add turmeric, pepper, and cinnamon and cook, stirring 3 minutes.

Stir in tomato puree, 1/3 cup cilantro, chickpeas with reserved liquid, vegetable broth, and lentils.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

Stir in past and cook, stirring, until tender about 3 minutes.  Stir in parsley, remaining 1/3 cup cilantro to taste.

Makes 6 (main course) servings

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