Spicy Moroccan-Style Chicken and Lentil Soup

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Harira is an intensely flavored Moroccan soup of lentils, tomatoes, chickpeas, and often chicken or lamb. Best known as a dish with which to break fast during the holy month of Ramadan, it’s also served at other celebrations and family get-togethers. Most recipes call for a laundry list of ingredients, many of which are obscure and hard to find in American markets. To simplify our version, we looked to our spice rack for accessible, impactful flavor builders. We chose split chicken breasts as our protein, and after browning them, we bloomed our aromatics in the rendered fat. We began with minced onion, next adding a fragrant combination of fresh ginger, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne, saffron, and black pepper. The result: a sweet, smoky, deeply flavorful base with just a touch of heat. A bit of flour provided some thickening power. Cooking the chicken through in the broth boosted the base’s meaty flavor, and brown lentils held their shape and took on a tender texture when added with the browned chicken. Once the chicken was cooked, we removed it, then shredded it and stirred it back into the pot. Canned chickpeas were convenient while plum tomatoes cut into large, chunky pieces added just the right amount of tomato flavor and acidity. Harissa , a superspicy paste of hot chiles, spices, garlic, and olive oil, is a critical finishing touch to every harira recipe; for the best and most potent flavor, we made our own. We stirred plenty of this potent paste into the pot along with bright, fresh cilantro. Large green or brown lentils work well in this recipe; do not use French green lentils, or l entilles du puy . We prefer to use our homemade Harissa , but you can substitute store-bought harissa if you wish, though spiciness can vary greatly by brand.

1½ pounds bone-in split chicken breasts, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch saffron threads, crumbled
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
10 cups chicken broth
¾ cup green or brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
4 plum tomatoes, cored and cut into ¾-inch pieces
⅓ cup minced fresh cilantro
¼ cup harissa, plus extra for serving

1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown chicken lightly, about 3 minutes per side; transfer to plate.
2. Add onion to fat left in pot and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and saffron and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps, and bring to boil.
3. Stir in lentils and chickpeas, then nestle chicken into pot and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until chicken registers 160 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces using 2 forks, discarding skin and bones. Meanwhile, continue to simmer lentils, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes.
5. Stir in shredded chicken and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, cilantro, and harissa and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing extra harissa separately.

 

Spicy Moroccan-Style Lamb and Lentil Soup
Large green or brown lentils work well in this recipe; do not use French green lentils, or lentilles du puy . We prefer to use our homemade Harissa , but you can substitute store-bought harissa if you wish, though spiciness can vary greatly by brand.

1 pound lamb shoulder chops (blade or round bone), 1 to 1½ inches thick, trimmed and halved
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch saffron threads, crumbled
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
10 cups chicken broth
¾ cup green or brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
4 plum tomatoes, cored and cut into ¾-inch pieces
⅓ cup minced fresh cilantro
¼ cup harissa, plus extra for serving

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat lamb dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown lamb, about 4 minutes per side; transfer to plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot.
2. Add onion to fat left in pot and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and saffron and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps, and bring to boil.
3. Nestle lamb into pot along with any accumulated juices, bring to simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in lentils and chickpeas, cover, and place pot in oven. Cook until fork slips easily in and out of lamb and lentils are tender, 50 minutes to 1 hour.
4. Transfer lamb to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces using 2 forks, discarding excess fat and bones. Stir shredded lamb into soup and let sit until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, cilantro, and harissa and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing extra harissa separately.

 

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