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Lentil soup, date balls, celery salad

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

The first time I had harira was at the Jemaa el-fnaa over 20 years ago, and I fell in love with everything Moroccan. A market that comes alive in the evening, vendors, snake and monkey charmers, and of course food stalls selling snail soup, grilled meats, the best darned orange juice freshly squeezed and, of course, harira. The noise, bustle and smells overload the senses, but you are in one of the oldest WHO protected markets in the world, such a beautiful experience! This soup is a beautiful contemporary version of the very traditional harira. The soup is simmered in stages for hours, the flavors extracted and concentrated to perfection into a delicious dish. I was curious how the dates would go with this soup, but the touch of sweet balances the flavors.

I have been to the wonderful restaurant Aziza a few times, each time loving the food, the casual atmosphere and of course the food. I had to have the cookbook. A beautiful cookbook filled with gorgeous photographs and complex recipes. The chef is a master a creating the traditional flavors that define this cuisine in a new and contemporary way. I love this cookbook, and have cooked a few dishes from it, each time a commitment in the kitchen, but the dishes are amazing. A book for the committed chef. More delicious recipes from this cookbook, click here.

Serves 12-15

Ingredients: For the Spice mix:

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

1 tablespoon salt

For the Soup:

2 cups tomato paste

8 quarts plus 1 cup cold water

2 bunches cilantro, leaves and tender stems only

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves and tender stems only

1 1/2 pounds yellow onions

Green leaves from 1 bunch celery, about 3 cups; stalks reserved for garnish

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups warm water (about 110°F)

1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast (not quick-rising)

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

For the Date balls

12 Medjool dates

Extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups dried green lentils, preferably French, picked through and rinsed

For the Celery salad

Reserved bunch of celery (from above)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the spice mix:

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside

For the soup:

Put the tomato paste and 7 quarts cold water in a large nonreactive stockpot over high heat. Whisk occasionally as the water comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook for about 1 hour, or until it has reduced by about one-quarter. (Remove from the heat if the onions aren't ready.)

Meanwhile, rinse the cilantro and parsley well and set aside. Cut the onions into large chunks. Put the chunks in a food processor and pulse until they are becoming a mush. Add as much of the herbs as fit into the food processor. Pulse the machine, adding small amounts of cold water if necessary to allow the blade to spin. As the herbs decrease in volume, add the remaining herbs and the celery leaves and continue to pulse. Stop from time to time to scrape the sides with a rubber spatula and mix the herbs to redistribute them. Run the machine for up to 10 minutes, until the mixture is almost liquefied.

Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan and stir in the spice mix.

Add the remaining 5 cups cold water to the onions and bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and boil gently for about 1 hour or until the liquid is reduced by half.

Stir the onion mixture into the stockpot, return to a simmer, and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, skimming any impurities that rise to the top, until the soup has reduced by about one-third to just over 4 quarts .

Meanwhile, for the date balls:

Cut a lengthwise slit down one side of each date, open it as you would a book, and remove the pit. Cut the dates lengthwise in half, then cut each half lengthwise into 4 strips. Using your fingertips, shape each strip into a rough ball. If you keep the skin side facing out, the ball will be less sticky and will hold together better.

Pour a shallow pool of olive oil into a small bowl. Rub a little of the oil on the center of one palm, put a date ball on it, and use the index finger of your other hand to roll the date into a smooth ball. Put the ball in the bowl of oil, and repeat with the rest of the dates, adding more oil to the bowl as needed to keep the date balls covered. Set aside.

For the lentils:

Put the lentils in a saucepan, add 6 cups (1.4 kilograms) cold water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook the lentils for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring them from time to time.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water. Taste a lentil. When they have started to soften but are still firm in the center, drain them in a fine-mesh strainer, rinse them with cold water, and submerge them in the bowl of cold water until ready to use.

For the celery salad:

Remove the tough outer celery stalks and reserve them for another use. Pinch off the leaves from the inner stalks and place the leaves in a bowl of ice water. Cut the stalks into 1/8-inch dice; you need 1 cup (120 grams). Put the diced celery in a small bowl, toss with the olive oil and parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To finish the soup:

Once the soup has reduced, add the lentils; keep warm over low heat.

Whisk together the flour, water, and yeast in a small bowl and let sit at room temperature until foamy and bubbling, about 10 minutes.

Whisking constantly, add the flour mixture to the soup, then stir with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot, as you bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat. (High heat could cause the flour to stick to the bottom of the pot.) Simmer the soup gently, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, remove the soup from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice.

Drain and dry the celery leaves. Using 2 soupspoons, form the celery salad into a quenelle or football shape and place toward the rim of each soup bowl. Stack about 8 date balls alongside each quenelle. (If you end up with extra date balls, keep them in the refrigerator and add them to salads.)

Carefully ladle the soup around the garnishes so that a bit of the celery salad and the date balls remain visible. Drizzle some of the olive oil that remains in the bowl of celery salad over the soup and garnish with the celery leaves.

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