Harira – Moroccan Chicken Soup

There are about as many variations on this recipe as there are families in Morocco, or so I’m told.  This one came to me through a book on world street food and takes a little preparation – but some of that can be short-cutted if you’re in a rush.

It’s rich, hearty, winter-warming, and I can’t make less than a small vat of the stuff.

Serves a family of 7 comfortably.  If you want to make more, use the quantities in brackets to serve a churchful of hungry lent-lunchers and still have enough left over to feed the family that night and over the weekend to come.  Seriously, I can’t seem to make a small quantity of this stuff.

Quick spin round the ingredients, Clive, then back to me.

  • 1 (2) Medium chicken (1.5kg ish)
  • 2 (8) tbsp butter
  • 2 (8) tbsp olive oil
  • 2 (6-7) large onions, sliced
  • 6 (all the garlic in the house) cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1tsp (4) ground turmeric
  • 1tsp (4) ground cinnamon
  • 2 (8) large, ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 (4) cup dried chickpeas
  • 1 (2-3) cup short-grained rice
  • 1/2 (2) cup plain flour
  • Parsley
  • 2 (6) eggs
  • Lemons

The night before you want to make the soup…

Pressure cook the chicken.  Put in the pressure cooker with enough water to cover, add a carrot (broken into chunks), a quartered onion (skin still on), 2-3 tsp salt and a dozen or so whole black peppercorns.  I like to sling in a teaspoon or so of ground turmeric at this point.  20 minutes on high pressure, allow to cool.  Strain off the stock and keep it, separate the meat from the bones – shred the meat and save that, all the squidgy bits of carcass (including the soft, pressure-cooked bones) can go to the dog.  He’s now your bestest friend in the whole world EVER.

You can shortcut this by buying cooked chicken and using chicken stock you’ve already got, but if you make your own stock you can control the flavours so much more.

Dissolve the 1/2 cup plain flour in a cup of water and leave it to stand overnight.  Not found a way to shortcut this one.  Answers in the comments below, please!

Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with water until they’re about 3-4cm under.  They’re going to absorb the water and expand, so check on them and make sure they’re still covered at some point.  You can bypass this by using 2 tins of chickpeas as they’re pre-soaked for your convenience.

The Main Method

Big, deep, pan.  We’re talking stock pot, jam pan, that sort of thing.  Well, we are if you’ve quadrupled the ingredients.  You can probably get away with something smaller, but not a lot.  Heat the butter and oil, fry the sliced onions and garlic until soft and translucent.  Add the turmeric, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and diced tomatoes.  Simmer this until it reduces to a gorgeous thick sauce.  Smells fantastic at this stage.  Add the drained chickpeas, rice, chicken stock.  Simmer until the chickpeas are cooked through.  This takes about an hour, less if you’re using pre-soaked chickpeas.

If it starts to stick and looks really gloopy, add more stock.  The final consistency is pretty thick and sticky, but you want to serve it by the bowl, not by the slice.  It’s amazing how much liquid the rice soaks up, so just keep adding a cup or 2 of stock as required.  Each time you add stock, check the seasoning of the mix.  Chicken is remarkably bland, it’s amazing what a pinch of salt and a grate of pepper will do.

2 man job, this stage.  One to stir, one to pour.  First, pour in the flour and water mix into the soup in a thin, steady, stream.  The second person at this stage is to keep stirring to ensure it’s thoroughly mixed as it’s added in.  If you can persuade them to keep stirring for the next 15 minutes, go for it.  Otherwise, dismiss them for now, but let them know they’ll be needed again in a quarter of an hour.  Stir frequently throughout the next 15 minutes.

Add the shredded chicken meat back in, mix thoroughly, give it a couple of minutes then take it off the heat.  Chop the parsley, add and mix.  Finally, beat the egg and get your assistant back.  Just as with the flour, pour the beaten eggs into the soup, stirring all the while.

Last, but not least, juice the lemons and stir the juice in.

Serve with chunks of fresh bread.

You can adjust and adapt this recipe with whatever you happen to have on hand.  Got a load a lovely, fresh, chillies?  Add them in!

Slowly, slowly, roasty ducky (or goosey, or both-y)

There’s something wonderful about the slow cooking process that takes a simple little bit of meat and turns it into something amazing.  Just look at Lechon!  Or to the humble jerk chicken!  This duck/goose recipe is closer to jerk chicken in technique yet keeps the simple flavours of the meat and the rosemary front and centre – no Habanero heat to blow your head off.

This is a Slovakian recipe, lovingly transcribed from her parents’ cookbook (or, more likely, memory) by Lubi, once our au-pair, now living happily in Dundee.  We were served this when we visited her family in Slovakia, and have had it for our Christmas meal two years running.

For 7 hungry people, you will need…

1 duck and 1 goose.  You want birds that have lived and that have built up a lovely layer of fat.  None of these skinny-arsed ducks you usually find in the supermarket.  Ask your butcher.  If you don’t have a butcher, find one and ask them!  You really can’t beat having a tame butcher you can ask for the right meat at the right time – and one that won’t bat an eyelid when you’re asking for trotters to make the jelly for a pork pie or blood to put in a sorpatel.

Salt, pepper, rosemary, watercabbagebread.

Begin by jointing the bird/s, salting the meat generously and leaving to stand for 12 hours or more.  Overnight is perfect.

Next day, oven to 150C, wash the salt off, place the portions on a baking tray skin side up.  You can use a baking tray or a big, shallow pan with a lid if you’ve got one.  Sprinkle of salt, generous grate of pepper, sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary.

Add ~0.5l water to the pan.  Lid on (or cover loosely with foil), into the oven for 1.5 hours.  Relax.  Chop some cabbage, knock back the bread you started earlier in the day.  Read a chapter or 3 of London Falling.

After 1.5 hours, foil/lid off, jack the oven up to 250C, give it 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin.  You can do this under the grill if you like.  Cook the cabbage now.

Serve with freshly steamed cabbage and freshly baked bread.  Thick slices of the stuff (the bread, not the cabbage), drizzled with the salty, peppery, herby fat left over in the cooking pan.

Both times we’ve done this for Christmas we’ve had the same genius idea – there’ll be some meat left over for rissoles the next day.  And both times we’ve been wrong.  Somehow, even if there’s some left on the tray after everyone’s finished, you find yourself wandering past and picking off just one more little piece.  Just one more.  My, but this is tasty, even when it’s cold.  And before you know it, it’s all gone.  And you’ve got to figure out what you’re eating on Boxing Day after all.

And if I’ve got anything wrong, Lubi, please let me know!

Cookbooks? Prove yourselves worthy!

Every year since 2000, I’ve started by going on a massive diet.  Some years with more success than others, granted.  It’s a diet I think I’ve blogged about before.  Boils down to 3 simple rules:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. No alcohol until mid-February

Do all of the above and you’re golden.

I also find I spend more time reading about food and planning experimental cooking than I would otherwise.

Cookbooks on my shelves have to earn their place.  They’ve got to prove their worth in the kitchen otherwise they’re out.  I think I’ve got 4 on the shelves I’ve not done anything with yet – hopefully that’s just a matter of time.  Of course, there are some chefs who’s books are the equivalent of the next Blackmore’s Night album – they’ll be purchased without a thought and reviewed (and discarded) later.  Once such chef is Paul Prudhomme.

I’ve 4 of his books on the shelf right now.  Louisiana Kitchen, Fiery Foods, Seasoned America and, the latest addition, Louisiana Tastes.

I did have a 5th book, “A Fork in the Road”, but that was clearly written after he’d had a long reality-check conversation with his cardiologist and the recipes were substantially different!

Each of his books takes a slightly different approach to the recipes, giving you different snippets of information, history, back story, and so on.  This one gives you tasting notes as you go along, encouraging you to taste your food more and almost drawing back the curtain to show how the wizard works his magic.  Take this from “Bucktown soup”, the first recipe I cooked from this book:

An immediate saltiness rises above a very subdued middle taste, led by a sweet, boiled onion flavor. The final taste fades in the mouth.

This is what you should be tasting at the end of step 1.  And, by God, he’s right!  That sweet, boiled onion flavour wasn’t exactly what I was wanting the final thing to taste of, but trust me, this man knows what he’s talking about.  Moving on to the end of stage 2…

Now notice the very unusual taste produced by the combination of lime juice, cream and the natural sweetness of the vegetables. For a brief moment, the flavor suggests a lime dessert, then the taste changes to an herbal creaminess

And yes, there’s cream in this – a whole pint of double cream.  But man, it is good!  And then, 20 minutes later, you’re digging into a bowl of this Louisiana take on a smoked fish chowder, your tastebuds singing and dancing in joy.

So yeah, this book is seasoned liberally with tasting notes like this.  And it’s sprouted a veritable flock of post-it note sticky labels marking the page corners for the recipes we’re going to try this year.

My cookbooks are also living documents, each recipe we’ve done is scored, reviewed, and any alterations made are jotted down so we can either do the same next time or know what not to do!  Notes on the Bucktown soup recipe read “subbed paprika for half the cayenne, spice level about right for youngest.”  Notes on the next recipe, Harira, read “Soak your own chickpeas next time, don’t use tinned.  And remember the flour/water the night before.

I’ve a real love for street food.  Being a busy man, I know street food is going to be something that can either be cooked damn quickly or can be made well in advance and assembled on demand.  Harira is one of those “make well in advance” recipes.  It’s a rich, lightly spiced, Moroccan chicken soup from “Street Food From Around the World

If you’re coming to the Soup and Sweet Lunch at St John the Baptist Church, Baston, on February 2nd, this is what I’m making.

This book has been sat on my shelf, largely unread, for a few years now.  It was being given it’s last chance read-through when I came across Harira.  And now it’s firmly back on the shelf, festooned with page markers, all calling me to different countries for their street food delights.  It’s not the prettiest of books, only having a handful of colour plates, but the recipes are solid and the little snippets of back story to each of them are lovely.

Final cook book for this post isn’t available yet.  If you’ve ever been to The Curry Guy’s website, you’ll know his recipes are sound.  He’s finally managed to swing a publishing deal and I pre-ordered this as soon as I found out about it.

Go.  Buy his book.  Fund volume 2!

I wish all of you dieting good luck – you don’t have to change what you eat, you just have to eat less of it.

And please, recommend me cookbooks!