Lentils and chickpeas are widely used in the Moroccan cuisine in dishes infused with traditional spices and herbs that give them their distinctive taste. I often cook with either lentils or chickpeas, but it wasn't until I found Holly S. Warah's recipe on her Arabic Zeal blog that I actually thought of combining the two. Holly's Moroccan-style Lentil Soup with Chickpeas is the very definition of comfort food. It is wonderfully aromatic, soothing, rich, deeply satisfying and nourishing.
The soup is fragrantly seasoned with ginger, turmeric and cumin, the indispensable spices of Morocco. Tomatoes add an extra layer of richness, while harissa - the North-African hot chili paste - gives it a spicy edge that offsets the sweetness of the soup. A splash of lemon juice gives it a subtle citrus note and the final sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley adds extra flavour and a beautiful colour contrast.
The recipe is blissfully simple and thrifty, using ingredients that are widely available (except for harissa, which can easily be replaced with chili or cayenne powder, though not with the same result). Serve this soup warm, with crusty bread and a lemon wedge, and I guarantee you will relish every mouthful. If you're interested in healthy cooking you'll adore this soup. It provides high amounts of protein and fiber and is packed with minerals and vitamins.
Fascinated as I am with the Arab world, I once embarked on the ambitious endeavour to check all the 120+ UAE and GCC blogs listed on Fooderati Arabia and that's how I found Holly's beautiful blog. It instantly captivated me with its simple, user-friendly design and warm colours. Arabic Zeal explores the region's culture, books and diverse cuisines, but it doesn't stop there. The blog also features social and gastronomic events, art and literature festivals, travel, film reviews and more. It showcases the traditional and modern sides of the Arab lifestyle.
Foodwise, Holly's blog is a growing collection of regional specialties with authentic flavours and traditional methods of preparation, as well as new recipes inspired by her travels. Holly's riveting posts are a proof of her extraordinary writing skills, as is her award-winning short story My Brother's Wife. On a more personal level, Arabic Zeal explores the complexity of a cross-cultural life, seeking to balance the modern, American lifestyle with the traditional, conservative Arab ways of living.
Holly is a constant presence in her "virtual home" through her comment replies and the open dialogue that she encourages. I often visit Arabic Zeal as it alleviates the nostalgia I feel when I remember my stays in the Middle East. I'd like to share with you some of my favourite recipes from Holly's blog:
- Fattoush - the refreshing, colourful, crunchy Lebanese salad that's full of flavour and nutritious
- Ma'amoul (nut-filled and date-filled versions) - delicious stuffed pastries that are beautifully shaped with wooden molds - easily veganized using non-dairy butter and milk
- Ataif (qatayef) - delicate, half-moon shaped pancakes with various fillings, that can be deep-fried or baked and drenched in a sugar syrup scented with rosewater, orange blossom water or both.
All that being said, here is the wonderful lentil and chickpea soup recipe, published with the kind permission of Holly S. Warah:
Moroccan-style Lentil and Chickpea Soup
Serves 6 - 8
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced or finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- black pepper and salt to taste
- 1 cup orange lentils (also known as red lentils), picked over and rinsed - 1 cup = 250 ml
- 1 can (400g) whole plum tomatoes
- 1 can (400 g) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 6 cups (1.5 L) water plus 1 vegetable stock cube (or 6 cups ready-made vegetable stock)
- 1 Tb freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1-2 tsp harissa paste
- chopped fresh coriander or parsley to garnish
Although orange (red) lentils cook fast, I like to save cooking time by soaking them for 20-30 minutes in water barely covering them.
Heat the oil in a large pot or casserole. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for a few seconds to infuse the oil, stirring constantly. Add the onion and carrot and cook for a few minutes to soften. Meanwhile, finely chop the tomatoes and keep aside (don't discard the liquid). Don't be tempted to use a blender to get the job done faster, the odd tomato chunk will make a beautiful colour contrast. Add the ginger and spices and stir to coat the vegetables well.
This is where Holly offers a slow cooker alternative, please check her post for details.
To continue cooking on the stovetop, add the lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes (plus the liquid) and water plus veggie cube (or the vegetable stock) and bring to a boil. Season with black pepper and salt.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently, uncovered for 40-45 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the lentils are mushy. If you prefer not to pre-soak the lentils, the soup will need additional cooking time.
If you notice that the soup thickens before the lentils are cooked through, you can either add more water or just cover the pot for the remaining time. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed.
Allow the soup to cool down until it no longer burns the mouth and add the lemon juice and harissa paste. This chili paste is really hot stuff, a little goes a long way, so start with 1 teaspoonful and see how you like it, then add more if you want. The harissa I found at a local supermarket was very mildly hot, so I ended up adding 4-5 teaspoonfuls to get that spicy edge.
Serve garnished with fresh herbs, and crusty bread and lemon wedges on the side. For those who like it spicier, offer more harissa.
Enjoy and spread the magic!:)
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