Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Harira or حريرة

The western world has the Food Network.  Over here, we have the Asian Food Channel.  And, as luck would have it, they opened a store and class kitchen in Singapore, just after I moved back to KL.  The couple of times I've returned to Singapore, there was always an agenda and no shopping or class-taking time.  Imagine my delight when I was invited to go again, all expenses paid – yay, even an executive club room in the hotel, which means open bar and canapés at happy hour! – with my days off and no agenda.  I immediately got online to sign up for a class.  I really didn’t care what they were teaching; I just wanted to be in the AFC kitchen.  The class available on my Saturday there was called Exotic Favorites and we learned to make baklava, a lamb and tomato soup named harira, and the roasted eggplant dip baba ganoush, as part of a traditional mezze.

Now, a confession:  I lost my notes.  All I have left are a bunch of photographs, my memories and this pen.
Pretty cool, huh?
So I am recreating this harira rather slap-dashly and with the help of a few different online recipes.  I don’t see how it can turn out badly, since all of the ingredients are fresh and tasty but it will not be the same as the one we made at AFC.  For one thing, since we didn’t have two hours for the soup to simmer, the chef had made stock from the lamb and started with that instead of putting it all in together to simmer, as below.  But, hey, all alone here, just me and the hound, I have all the time in the world for simmering.

Olive oil
400g or 14oz lamb
1/2 kilo or 1lb fresh tomatoes
2 medium onions
3 stalks celery – well-washed
1 big bunch cilantro or coriander leaves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Good pinch of saffron
Sea salt
Black pepper
60g or about 3 oz tomato paste
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
30g or about 3 oz fine pasta, broken into short lengths
1 lemon, cut into wedges for squeezing at will (at serving time)

Cube your lamb and brown it in a little olive oil.  Season with black pepper, sea salt and cayenne.

Add two liters or a little more than two quarts of water to the pot.  Bring to the boil.

Meanwhile, chop the celery, tomatoes, onions and the stems of the cilantro and add them to the pot.    Chop up the cilantro leaves and save them for later.

Add in the cinnamon, ginger, saffron and tomato paste.  Simmer, covered, for two hours.  Or more. 

About 10 minutes before serving, add in the chickpeas, dried pasta and chopped cilantro leaves.  Check the seasonings and add more salt and cayenne as needed.  Cook till pasta is al dente.  

According to our AFC chef (I believe his name was Khalil) harira is a traditional iftar soup, originally from Morocco, which means it is commonly eaten during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan as part of the sunset meal.  He said sometimes lentils are added as well, for more substance.

In a side note, I love Google Translate.  When I looked up harira, it gave me that lovely word you see in the title.  (Arabic is so beautiful.  If only I could read it.)  When I turned it around and asked what that word meant, the translation was “calorie.”  Now I have one thing I can recognize on a nutrition label, should such a thing exist, in Egypt.

For a vegetarian version, forget the lamb and start from where you add water to the pot.  Add vegetable stock (homemade or from a couple of cubes and water) and go from there.  You might want to add the lentils for extra protein. 

Here are a few photos of the AFC kitchen and store.*  In you are ever in Singapore, pay them a visit.

* I paid for my own class and received no compensation for writing this post.


  1. This looks delicious, Stacy! And your photos are awesome!

  2. Thanks, Cheryl. The photos are my biggest struggle. Some people, like my daughters and husband, have a natural eye for it. I am trying to learn!

  3. We loved this at our house too. I did end up using bone-in lamb stew meat because that's what my local market it and it was very good. More work to eat, but definitely tasty.

  4. I am sure yours was even richer for having the bones, Cheryl. I asked the AFC chef if he used meat with bones to make the broth and he said, and I quote, "No, no, no. Just the cut up meat. No bones." On the other hand, he used a mixture of lamb and mutton so perhaps that gave it a stronger flavor. I think any soup is improved by bones!


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