Posts Tagged ‘morocco’

A Recipe for Harira that Brings You Straight to Spain

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Dianne Konz has taught Spanish literature, language and civilization at the University of Texas at Austin and at George Washington University. She has also lectured and published studies on Spanish and Latin American literature, and Spanish culture.

Recently, Dianne and a group of Smithsonian Journeys travelers explored the Paradores and Pousadas of the Iberian Peninsula.


One of the highlights of Paradores and Pousadas was a visit to Don Diego’s olive farm near Ronda. Upon arrival, we were greeted by our charming, witty, and knowledgeable host and invited into his home for a tapas lunch.  But in addition to the various tapas, Don Diego offered us a delicious Sephardic soup of Moroccan origin called harira. I loved the blend of flavors—exotic spices, earthy legumes, fresh herbs, small bits of meat.  Here at home, I’ve been researching recipes for harira and experimenting in my own kitchen. The recipe that follows is a close as I’ve come—for now—to replicating Don Diego’s dish.

This zesty, satisfying soup is good anytime, including in warm weather. It is hearty, but not heavy. The fragrant spices are lightened by the fresh cilantro and a touch of lemon juice. Harira has traditional roles as well: as a Moroccan soup of Muslim tradition, it is frequently served in the evening during Ramadan to break the fast, or in the early morning hours prior to a day of fasting. In the Sephardic tradition, harira is often served to break the fast after Yom Kippur.

Harira. Photo by author


4 oz. dried chickpeas (garbanzos) soaked overnight, OR, 1 ½ cups canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained (15 oz. can)
¾  to 1 lb. lean beef, such as good quality stew meat, OR, ¾ to 1 lb. coarsely ground lean beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ – 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped small (1 ½ cups)
2 stalks celery, chopped small (1 cup)
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric, or 1 teaspoon saffron threads, ground in mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes with juices
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus 4 or 5 whole sprigs of cilantro
¼ cup broad-leaf parsley (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 oz. dried green or brown lentils
½ cup long grain rice
1 ½ quarts rich chicken stock.  If using boxed, use low-sodium, and simmer two 32 oz. cartons until they are reduced to about 6 or 7 cups.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, then lower heat to medium and reduce it while you prepare the other ingredients.

Pick through the lentils to remove any stones, rinse them and set aside.

Cut the stew meat into small cubes and toss with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven. When oil is almost smoking, add about 1/3 of the meat and brown over medium-high heat, stirring, until cubes are well-browned and meat juice is evaporated. Remove to a covered dish and continue cooking the meat in batches, adding a little more oil if necessary. Set the meat aside.

Add chopped onions and celery to the pan and cook, stirring, until they are softened but not browned. Reduce heat to medium and add cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, and cumin, stirring continually for about 1 minute.  Do not overheat the spices, as it can make them bitter.

Return the meat to the pan and mix well with the vegetables and spices. Add tomatoes with their juices, stirring well over medium-high heat. Throw in 4 or 5 whole sprigs of cilantro. (These will be removed at the end.)

Stir in the chicken stock, the chickpeas, and half of the lentils and bring just to a boil. Cover pot. Reduce heat to medium-low or low, to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook 1 ½ hours. Meat cubes must be very tender and chickpeas cooked, but whole.

Remove the whole cilantro sprigs. Add the rice and the remaining lentils, the lemon juice, and about ¼ cup chopped cilantro. Return soup to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

When the rice and the lentils are cooked, remove lid and adjust seasonings. If you like, refresh the flavors with a little more chopped cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, pepper and parsley, if you are using it. Heat uncovered for a few minutes, and serve!


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Paradores and Pousadas tour here

Splendors of Morocco

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

What comes to mind when someone mentions Morocco? Bogart and Bacall? Colorful street markets? The Sahara Desert? Here’s a few things you might not know about this fascinating area of the world.

A Moroccan textile market.

1) Morocco’s population of donkeys is key to its economy. Appalled by the condition of these animals, in 1927 a wealthy American woman donated money to found a free veterinary clinic that still operates in Fez today, which is called the American Fondouk.

2) People love to journey to Morocco for the food, a mix of European, Middle Eastern, native Berber, and other African cuisines. Pastilla, a meat pie encased in a phyllo-like dough, is a popular national dish. Click here to learn how to make your own.

3) Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque is also home to the first book bazaar in world history. Almohad Caliph Yaqub Al-Mansur, a great lover of books, built the mosque during his reign between 1184 and 1199. The books and manuscripts the Caliph collected, from the bazaar at the mosque and from other sources, eventually became the collection for Morocco’s first public library.

4) Morocco spends 20% of its national budget on education. Children aged 7 to 13 must attend school, and there are a variety of trade schools and public universities available for further education.

5) Morocco is world-famous for its intricately embroidered textiles. Click for an interactive online exhibition on Moroccan textiles from Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Now is a great time to visit Morocco. Click here for more on travel to Morocco with Smithsonian.

What inspires you to travel? Please share.

Breaking the Ramadan Fast in Ksiba, Morocco

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Moshe Gershovich is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and will act as Study Leader on our upcoming Moroccan Discovery tour. In recent years, Moshe has taken groups of UNO students to Morocco where they were immersed in the study of Arabic and North African history and culture. Here, he shares memories of his very first trip to Morocco.

Spice Market, Marrakech

January 1996, Ramadan, 1417. My first trip to Morocco.

Late in the afternoon, I was about to conclude a long road trip that had started earlier that morning in Casablanca. With me, driving the car we had rented was my friend Bill, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco who had agreed to join me on my journey and introduce me to his adoptive country. Having converted to Islam a few years earlier, Bill was observing the mandatory fasting of the holy month, from day break to dusk. Out of respect and consideration, I too abstained from eating or drinking that day. Now, as we were approaching the small town, just off the main internal road connecting the imperial capitals of Fez and Marrakech through the Middle Atlas, we were thoroughly hungry and thirsty.

The observance of Ramadan  in Morocco is virtually universal. Save for an occasional group of ill-informed tourists, it is impossible to see anyone eating or drinking in public. Many restaurants and cafes close down throughout the month, and those that remain open, for the sake of foreigners, are forbidden by law from serving Moroccan clients. While night time features a happy gathering of people outdoors, during the day the streets are far less crowded than usual as most Moroccans tend to spend their days indoors while those out at work wait impatiently to get back home to break the fasting. By contrast, an hour later the streets are deserted and silent as everyone is home eating.

It was this silence that welcomed us as we entered Ksiba and made our way to the home of IO, an old friend of Bill and our host for the night. Entering the modest dwelling, inhabited by more than a dozen multi-generational family members, I came face to face for the first time with the simply irresistible warmth and hospitality of the Middle Atlas Imazighen (Independent Men; AKA Berbers). No matter how poor they may be and how meager their material resources, they would never hesitate to share them and offer their guests the most lavish fare they can afford.

Ftour is the Moroccan Arabic derivation of Iftar, meaning breakfast. While the term is usually used for the morning meal, during Ramadan it refers to the meal at sundown when the daily fasting comes to an end. It is never a heavy kind of meal; that one would come later on, close to midnight, after the body has readjusted to digest food. Instead, it is an array of small, appetizer style dishes, some as simple as hard-boiled eggs or a bowl of Morocco’s signature soup, Harira. The first item one consumes is typically a date. Before leaving Casablanca, Bill and I had purchased a nice bag of dates at the Central Market, a common gift during Ramadan. Now those dates were added to the pile already arranged on the small table loaded with dishes and glasses. We joined the family seated on low sofas in the large open space used as the dwelling’s only common area.

In the years since, I have had many opportunities to visit Moroccan homes and share meals with their members. I have experienced fine cuisine in feasts that took place in breathtaking palace-like surroundings that appeared to be taken straight out of the pages of Arabian Nights. And still, in my mind I will always remember that modest breaking of the fast at a small town among complete strangers who would soon become friends.

Tell us about your first experience in a new culture. Share below.

Click here for more information on travel to Morocco.

World Heritage: Morocco

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
The Ancient fortified city of Ait-Ben-Haddou. Photo: Amy Kotkin

The Ancient fortified city of Ait-Ben-Haddou. Photo: Amy Kotkin

Visit just once and it becomes clear why the ksar, or fortified city, of Ait-Ben-Haddou was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The setting Moroccan sun brilliantly illuminates the red buildings of the city, which is situated on a hill in Souss-Massa-Draâ along the Ouarzazate River. Ait-Ben-Haddou is a group of earthen buildings established in the 11th century. The village is surrounded by high defensive walls and is located along a former caravan route used by ancient travelers to transport salt, gold and ivory between the Sahara and Marrakech.

Inside the defensive walls are beautiful examples of kasbahs (high-walled fortresses) which are fragile enough that they can be damaged by rainfall. Ait-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of the historic architecture in southern Morocco that is disappearing due to weather, cultural shifts, and new technology. Despite the modernization of the area, the ksar still stands as a testament to a way of life that was once widespread. Today, the city consists of a mosque, small castles, modest houses, stables, lofts, and silos. The remaining inhabitants of Ait-Ben-Haddou, about 700 souls, make their living tending to herds of sheep and trading at the local market. A town just across the river provides its locals with access to electricity and modern appliances, throwing traditional and contemporary lifestyles into sharp relief.

By 1977, Ait-Ben-Haddou had fallen into disrepair. Restoration of the lower facades began after Hollywood producers decided to use the city as the setting for the film Jesus of Nazareth (1977). As a result, many other filmmakers wished to use Ait-Ben-Haddou for the scene of their own productions, which prompted the Moroccan government to increase their efforts to preserve the city. After the site’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preservation efforts in cooperation with UNESCO standards have made Ait-Ben-Haddou a popular destination for nearly 130,000 tourists annually.

What is the most striking contrast of ancient and modern that you’ve seen? Share your comments.

Intrigued by Ait-Ben-Haddou? See it for yourself on our Moroccan Discovery tour.

Click here for all of our travel opportunities featuring Morocco.

Morocco – Confluence of Cultures: Dispatch 17 from Extraordinary Cultures Tour

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is seventeenth in a series. To see the other posts, click here.

Carved doorway at Bahia Palace. Photo: Richard Kurin

Carved doorway at Bahia Palace. Photo: Richard Kurin

Morocco is one of those amazing places where the interplay and blending of cultures produces vibrant artistic, religious, and civic traditions. In Marrakech, Berber, Roman, Arab, Jewish, Moorish-Andalusian, and French peoples and traditions have met. The result is stunning.

Historical battles and conflicts produced major dynasties and rulers, and over time, a society quite tolerant of diversity. Berber culture permeates the citythe high snow-covered Atlas Mountains hearkening to their homeland visible on the city’s horizon. Berber jewelry, leather work, swords, knives in the old city souq (market) and a variety of Berber tea sellers, artisans, and performers in the city’s center attest to that influence.

Arabs brought Islam to the Maghrib—the horizon of the setting sun, or the west, as Morocco is known. The city’s medinah (old quarter), its mosques, minarets, and schools all signal this heritage. Though largely a Muslim society, Morocco welcomed Jews with the start of the Inquisition and their expulsion—along with Muslims—from Spain in 1492. Marrakech hosted a thriving Sephardic community—now evident in the old mellah (Jewish quarter), where Judaic motifs can be found in the architecture and varied artifacts of religious life are found in the shops. But Morocco wouldn’t be complete without it Roman ruins, mosaics, tile work, Andalusian gardens, decorative styles, and especially musicians, as well as its French language and cooking stylesthere exists quite a mix.