The combination of lentils, chickpeas, and pasta makes this a filling main-course soup. The robust spices, herbs, and lemon juice deliver big flavor despite the lack of meat in the dish. If you only know lentil soup as a plain and rather homogeneous dish, prepare to be wowed by the Moroccan version known as harira. We sure were!
Found in our latest Cook’s Illustrated magazine, this Moroccan Lentil and Chickpea Soup is native to the Maghreb region of North Africa. It is full of warm spices and fresh herbs, which play more than just a supporting role, and tastes more like an Italian minestrone. Like countless other regional dishes, harira’s exact ingredients vary from region to region and even from family to family.
This recipe carefully streamlines the ingredient list and technique of this classic Moroccan soup to deliver all the bold North African flavors you’d expect from harira in just a fraction of the time. Using canned chickpeas rather than dried saves about 2 hours of cooking time, and paring down the number of spices to a key five make it a dish most people can prepare without a special trip to the market. Using large amounts of just two herbs makes for quicker prep and a more efficient use of fresh ingredients. Finishing the dish with fresh lemon juice helps focus all the flavors.
The Swiss chard was gorgeous, and even though the original recipe didn’t call for it, we chopped up the stems and included them int the soup.
Based on several reviewer’s comments, Russ increased most of the spices by 50% and added salt when cooking the chopped onion, celery and Swiss chard stems. These are noted in the list of ingredients below. When it was done we both had to have a small bowl and we were impressed with how tasty it was!
We didn’t have enough brown lentils so we added French green lentils to equal one cup.
For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth and water. You can also garnish this soup with a small amount of harissa, a fiery North African chili paste, which is available at some supermarkets.
Moroccan Lentil and Chickpea Soup
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped fine
- 2 celery ribs, chopped fine
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 3 teaspoons ground coriander
- 3 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 4 cups water
- 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
- 1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup orzo
- 4 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Lemon wedges
- Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, celery and Swiss chard stem pieces and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and starting to brown, 7 to 8 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in coriander, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.
- Stir in ½ cup cilantro and ¼ cup parsley and cook for 1 minute.
- Add in broth, water, chickpeas, and lentils; increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and gently simmer until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in tomatoes and pasta and simmer, partially covered, for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add chard and continue to cook, partially covered, until pasta is tender, about 5 minutes longer.
- Off heat, stir in lemon juice, remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and remaining ¼ cup parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing lemon wedges separately.