For Ramadan: Harira

ramadan


Ramadan began last week. I have some Muslim friends on Facebook, so I see lots of “Ramadan kareem!” messages going back and forth.

 

 

The Islamic months don’t correspond to the seasons as ours do; their year is roughly 354 days long, so Ramadan happens roughly twelve days earlier every year. In 1984, my first year in Morocco, the first day of Ramadan was roughly the first of June. (There was some trouble that year. It’s not officially a new month until the new moon is sighted in Mecca, and the weather was bad that year in Saudi Arabia. Finally, around the third or fourth of June 1984, Ramadan was declared to be officially begun, almost by default.)

 

 

Summer is a bad time for Ramadan, and June is the worst of all, because June days are the longest days of the year. Muslims are enjoined to fast from the time in the morning when it’s light enough “to distinguish a black thread from a white thread” to the prayer-call at sunset. “Fasting,” in this sense, means no eating, no drinking water (very devout Muslims won’t swallow when they’re brushing their teeth, and there’s a lot of spitting in the street going on, because swallowing your own spit might qualify as drinking), no sex, no smoking (tragic in a culture like North Africa where everyone smokes).

 

 

That first year, in 1984, I tried to fast. I couldn’t do it. I realized, after two or three days, that no one could see me eating during the day if I just closed the window blinds.

 

 

Later, in Tunisia, I was more casual. I knew I was a “kouffar” (unbeliever), and so did everyone else, so I closeted myself in my office and smoked and drank water and coffee to my heart’s content. One of my Tunisian coworkers, who’d studied extensively in Europe and who was very worldly, joined me.

 

 

Then, a day or two later, someone else joined us.

 

 

After about two weeks, the whole office was smoking with me, on and off. It was okay, because they were with an unbeliever, and I was exerting an undue irreligious influence on them.

 

 

Ah, kids, those were the days.

 

 

There was a restaurant in Tunis not far from our house, which was also not far from the az-Zeituna mosque, one of the most famous mosques in Tunisia. During Ramadan, about fifteen minutes before sunset, we’d go there. They’d seat us and serve us soup.

 

 

But no one ate.

 

 

We waited for the boy at the mosque to give us the signal that the evening call to prayer was complete.

 

 

Then, in unison, we all dipped our spoons into our delicious thick chicken / tomato / chickpea soup, and broke our fast.

 

 

Here’s a recipe for harira, the traditional Ramadan fast-breaking soup:

 

 

Harira

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Makes about 12 cups

  • 1 whole chicken breast, halved
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • a 28-to 32-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and puréed coarse
  • 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
  • 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 19-ounce can of chick-peas, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup raw long-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • dried chick-peas, picked over water

 

In a heavy kettle (at least 5 quarts) simmer chicken in broth and water 17 to 20 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through, and transfer chicken with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Add to kettle tomatoes, saffron, onions, chick-peas, rice, and lentils and simmer, covered, 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Shred chicken, discarding skin and bones, and stir into soup with salt and pepper to taste. Soup may be prepared 4 days ahead (cool uncovered before chilling covered).

 

 

 

I find this recipe incomplete. It needs ras al-hanout, the traditional North African seasoning (you can buy it online, or make it yourself from regular ol’ supermarket seasonings), and some eggs (Ramadan harira usually has pieces of hard-boiled egg in it).

 

 

Also: if you make this soup, serve it with lots of Italian or French bread, for scooping and dipping.

 

 

And if you don’t feel like cooking soup the long way, especially during this long dismally hot summer, I’ve discovered that Campbell’s makes some very nice soups in plastic bags, which are pretty authentic. Their “Moroccan Chicken with Chickpeas” is a very passable Moroccan shorba, verging on harira.

 

 

Pinch a penny and spend a couple of bucks and buy a packet of it, and enjoy it.

 

 

With some Italian bread, and a lemon wedge to squeeze into it.

 

 

Ramadan kareem.


 

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