Harira Moroccan Lamb And Legume Soup
Yummy, lamb-y, lemony harira is a Ramadan break-fast staple that Moroccan Jews adapted for themselves. Lauren Rothman/JW
Serves 6-8 as a main course.
active: 30 min
total: 2 hrs 30 min
The High Holidays are upon us, and passionate eaters everywhere are obsessively plotting their break-fast: either fielding invitations to gatherings with family and friends, coordinating post-services bagels with fellow temple-goers, or planning to host their own Jewish smorgasbord. If you’re one of the millions of Ashkenazi Jews living in a major metropolitan area in the U.S., chances are that wherever you end up at dusk on Yom Kippur, the spread you’ll be greeted with will look something like this: bagels; various flavors of cream cheese; jewel-toned slices of lox; the crinkly, golden skin of a whole smoked whitefish and the requisite plate of fixings: sliced tomatoes, red onions and briny capers. On the side, maybe you’ll see some noodle kugel, a few containers of whitefish salad and for dessert a moist babka or a few handfuls of flaky rugelach.
All of this stuff is fantastic; in fact, I’m nearly salivating just thinking about my friend Jonathan’s annual break-fast, where he — a gifted home cook — serves all of these items, and more, on his beautiful wooden deck that opens out onto the New York City skyline. But on a planet that’s home to more than 14 million adherents to the faith, distributed between dozens of countries, there many fascinating — and delicious — break-fast recipes that go far beyond the usual bagel-and-a-schmear. This year, I wanted to turn my attention to those rich traditions.
In Syria and Iraq, for example, Jews break their fast delicately, with the round, crunchy sesame cookies known as k’a’ahim; Bukharan Jews still living in their central Asian homelands, as well as those who have emigrated to Israel, the U.S. and Europe, go in the other direction and drink a rich bone marrow broth. In Greece and Turkey, break-fasters prefer a sweet treat, sipping on a sugary “milk” made with melon seeds and accented with rosewater and vanilla. And in Israel, it’s traditional to begin the meal a single sweet date grown in the region, in exactly the same way that Muslims break their Ramadan fast.
In fact, in spite of the many decades of conflict between Middle Eastern Jews and our Arab neighbors, many of our culinary proclivities overlap. Think of the age-old question of who invented the classic street-food snack falafel: It’s nearly impossible to determine, since the crunchy chickpea fritters have been passed down the line in both traditions for generations.
A similar evolution can be seen in the case of harira, one of my very favorite ways to break the fast. A rich, comforting soup of lamb stewed with onions, tomatoes, lentils and fava or lima beans and served with plenty of fresh lemon juice and green parsley, harira originated in the Moroccan Arab tradition as a Ramadan break-fast meal, Jewish cooking expert Joan Nathan writes in her seminal 1979 tome Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook. Over the centuries, Nathan writes, some Moroccan Jews have adapted the recipe to fit their dietary requirements and commonly spoon it up when the sun goes down on Yom Kippur.
There’s a lot of notions out there about what makes a healthy break-fast meal: that you should eat something salty to replenish the body’s stock of this vital mineral, and that you should, obviously, take in fluids if you haven’t had anything to drink all day long. Harira fulfills both of those requirements, and additionally, the soft, nourishing beans within help restock protein and bring strength back into the body. It’s a win-win — and a tasty one, at that.
I’ve shared my adapted version for Nathan’s harira below. Feel free to tinker as you like, subbing stock for water, cilantro for the parsley or even topping with a few gratings of fresh lemon zest. If you make it, take my word that yours will be the most memorable break-fast this Yom Kippur.