Alright folks, I think it’s time I made good on the promise I made in my loosely Crystal Dessert-related Spicy Chicken Wrap & Tomato Hummus post and get down to business with the whole Crystal Desert Cuisine shabang. After being reminded of the existence of Red Lentils by the vendors and food stalls keeping us well fed and happy on our adventures through the Crystal Desert, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the topic of “Red Lentils” on this side of the screen~!
The first thing that popped into my mind when I started to zap my thinking-process into the general direction of lentils was, thanks to vivid memories of munching my way through bowl after bowl of the stuff, Morocco’s signature Red Lentil Stew, Harira. I suppose you can imagine why, as soon as I spotted this recipe just a few hours later…
…there was absolutely no other way to bring this bowl of yum to the real world than to cook up a ginormic pot of Harira~!
Similar to basically every “traditional” dish of any corner of the world, there’s as many “traditional” or “original” versions of a pot of Harira as there are grandmothers to cook it up. My version of this classic dish from the Maghreb region is basically the result of me crumpling up several “original” recipes going into completely opposite directions and ending up re-creating it from my memory quite a number of years back, so I won’t try to slap a “traditional” sticker on it – all I can say is that this recipe will net you 4-6 servings of a very, very close relative to the Harira being served from a ridiculously large, steaming clay pot in one of those tiny family-run businesses mostly overlooked by tourists in Agadir, Morocco.
100g Dried Red Lentils
100g Dried Chickpeas
Alt: 1 450g (250-280g once drained) Tin of Chickpeas – unlike tinned lentils, chickpeas can take quite a bit of heat, so this is your shortcut-option for the day~
½ Tsp Baking Soda for the Chickpea Soaking Water – Adding baking powder to the liquids you’re soaking chickpeas or other legumes in will prevent the delicate skins from bursting in the heat
Opt: 100g Couscous
500g Lamb Shoulder or Shank, deboned and diced into 2cm cubes
1 Brown Onion, finely diced
2 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
A 1-2cm Piece of fresh Ginger, finely grated
1 Tbsp Nut Butter – a staple mini-recipe for this is coming your way in just a couple of blinks~
2 Tbsp Concentrated Tomato Purée
1 l Lamb Stock
½ Bunch of Flatleaf Parsley
½ Bunch of Coriander
4 Large Tomatoes, blanched and peeled, deseeded and diced comfortably bitable cubes
6 Dates, finely Chopped
2 Tsp Ground Coriander
2 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Freshly cracked Black Pepper
1 Tsp Ground Green Cardamom
1 Tsp Ground Turmeric
1 Tsp Ground Fennel Seeds
1 Tsp Chilli Flakes
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Sumach
The Seeds of ½ Vanilla Pod
First off, here’s the recipe for a jar of nut- aka brown butter. While it’s admittedly not that much of a hassle to make this “on demand”, I usually keep a small jar of it in the fridge for several reasons~
a) I don’t use a lot of butter and this one’s, next to freezing it in 10g portions, the best way to keep it from going to waste.
b) Let’s hear it for shortcuts and kitchen cheats!
And c) A teaspoon of brown butter dot’s the I on so many dishes from soups and sauces to slabs of pan-seared meat~! It’s almost a spice or seasoning on its own.
Basically, nut butter is nothing more than the result of taking “clarified butter” one step further, so the prep is way easier than it’s rather ponzy roots in french cuisine and pâtisserie may indicate.
Simply pop 250g of top-quality, unsalted butter into a small pot set onto low heat. Allow it to melt and then gently simmer for 10 until the liquid butter turns a delicious caramel-golden color. Line a sieve with a sheet of muslin to remove the foamy protein-islands of milk solids and pour the butter through the sieve into a sealable, sterilized glass jar. Stored in the fridge, this’ll keep fresh and delicious for at least 8 weeks.
Oh, in case you were wondering why this is called “Nut Butter” or “Beurre Noisette”, what with the absence of nuts of any kind – the caramelized milk sugar giving the butter its golden-brown and nutty color at this point actually tastes a bit like (hazel)nuts, which is why it’s most commonly combined with fresh vegetables, fish or light sauces on the savory side or the fluffy and airy variety of french pastries on the sweet side of things.
Let’s move on to the main course~!
1) Soak the chickpeas and lentils, separately, in water overnight.
2) Add baking soda to the bowl containing your chickpeas– it’ll keep them from bursting open and turning to mush when they hit the hot stew tomorrow. You could do the same with the lentils, but the red ones are, for some reason unknown to me, less prone to burst. About 1/3 to ½ of them will actually pop in the stew, giving it its substance. If you want your other ingredients to swim in a rather light and clear broth, use baking powder for both legumes or add precooked/tinned ones to the stew just before the finishing line instead.
3) Melt the butter in a large pot set onto medium heat.
4) Add the lamb cubes, lightly dusted with some salt, and, while flipping them occasionally, lightly brown them all around.
5) Once the cubes look biteably seared, remove the meat from the pot and set it aside for the time being.
6) Add the onion cubes and sauté them until they start to soften. After about 3 mins, have them joined by the garlic.
7) As soon as a test-bite or spoon-prod tells you the onions are ready, stir in the tomato purée and allow it to heat up for about 2 mins.
8) Pop in the meat along with the chickpeas and dates, give them a quick stir, then deglaze the lot with the stock.
9) Turn the heat to low, and leave the stew to… well, stew just below the simmering point for 1hr 15 mins.
10) In case you’re going with the couscous option, prep the grains according to the package instructions in the meantime. If those instructions tell you to add a dollop of butter to it, use a bit of the browned butter instead. Or simply add it to the stew to soak. Another yummy side perfectly suitable to mop up any stew-remains in your bowls are fresh flatbreads, by the way~
11) With the side out of the way, take care of the tomatoey finish. Place them in a small pan along with a dab of olive oil.
12) Lightly sweat them for 2-3 mins, then fold in the herbs, a pinch of salt and a couple of chilli flakes. Transfer them into a small bowl, cover them with clingfilm and set the bowl aside until the stew’s ready.
13) Add all of the spices and a generous pinch of salt to a small bowl and carefully stir the lot until they’re well blended together. Stash the bowl somewhere out of harm’s way for the time being.
14) After the Harira has simmered along for 1 ¼ hours, stir in the ginger and lentils and leave the pot to do its business for another 15-20 mins. At this point, the meat should be – quite literally – at the melt-in-your-mouth stage. Have a test-bite to confirm the mark or spoon a cube out on a cutting board and “slice” it in two with a spoon~
15) Once the meat is perfect, stir 2 tbsp of the spice blend into the stew, set the heat to medium and allow the spices to infuse the Harira for 5 more mins. A number of the spices loose their aroma and any hope of medicinal effects along with their essential oils when exposed to high temperatures for an extended period of time, hence the late appearance of the spicy bunch~
16) Have a taste-test and, if necessary, stir in more of your spice mix and salt to adjust it to your liking.
17) Ladle the stew out onto warmed plates and top each serving off with a tbsp of the herbed tomato cubes to lighten up the yummy deal a bit~
18) All that’s left to do now is pick up a spoon, take a deep, aroma-therapy’esque whiff, lean back and…