Soup from Morocco

A dash of turmeric, sauteed onions and freshly chopped coriander leaves are the three simple elements that spice up these soups.

Golden potato soup 521 (photo credit: Yakir Levy)
Golden potato soup 521
(photo credit: Yakir Levy)
When it comes to soups, Moroccan cuisine is best known for the savory meat and vegetable broth that moistens generous mounds of couscous, and for the hearty harira made with meat, chickpeas, lentils and noodles.
Yet cooks in Morocco also excel at making simpler soups for everyday meals. In Jewish homes in Morocco, where Rivka Levy-Mellul, author of Moroccan Cooking (in Hebrew), grew up, soups were made most often in winter and were usually served for supper. Usually the soup was the whole meal, and was made of vegetables or dried legumes or both, often with the addition of meat.
Marrow bones were especially prized for enriching soups.
To make vegetable soup, Levy-Mellul cooks the bones with meat and diced potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, zucchini and celery leaves. She then grinds the vegetables to thicken the soup and adds semolina to make it more substantial.
Turmeric and chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) complete the seasoning.
Her barley soup gains flavor from sauteed onions, diced tomatoes and chicken broth and it too is seasoned with turmeric and cilantro. She makes sour soup by browning meat with potatoes, celery and garlic, and adds chard, turmeric and fresh lemon juice. Chickpeas and pumpkin are paired in a smooth-textured soup; they are cooked in beef broth, and then are pureed and seasoned with turmeric and cilantro, and with sweet seasonings as well: cinnamon, ginger and sugar. More assertive flavors – hot pepper, cumin and garlic – enter her pot of fava bean soup.
Rena Ben-Simhon, author of Moroccan Food (in Hebrew), also uses meat to enhance vegetable soups. Her tomato soup is much different from the smooth, American-style tomato soup I grew up with. The tomatoes cook with beef cubes and onions in water, and the soup is finished with rice, turmeric and parsley. Ben-Simhon puts cubes of meat in her white bean soup too, as well as onion, potato, tomatoes and turmeric. Meat broth flavors her lentil soup, which is accented with cumin and lemon juice. To make meatless split pea soup, she enriches the broth by sauteing onions and carrots in oil, and seasons it with cumin and turmeric.
Saffron and parsley are favored by Fettouma Benkirane, author of La Nouvelle Cuisine Marocaine, for flavoring soups, like her lamb and mixed vegetable soup embellished with fine noodles. She makes okra soup from fresh or dried okra cooked with chickpeas and onions in meat broth seasoned with saffron. Her hearty barley and dried fava bean soup is flavored with the fat of spicy beef confit and with saffron, paprika and cilantro.
Moroccan seasonings are great for enhancing soups made of just a few vegetables. Take Ben-Simhon’s potato soup. The potatoes are cooked with sauteed onions and turmeric, and the soup is finished with cilantro. It’s a simple soup, with water as the cooking liquid. Three elements make it tasty: a dash of turmeric, which lends flavor and a delicate orangeyellow hue; sauteed onions, which contribute richness; and freshly chopped coriander leaves. I use her flavoring formula for my potato and vegetable soup recipe below.
Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, also likes this seasoning style. Her lentil and chard soup is flavored with cumin, cilantro and garlic.
She uses saffron, cumin, ginger and turmeric for her spicy chickpea and tomato soup with noodles.
Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.
Turmeric, fresh coriander and harissa, or North African pepper paste, give even the simplest of vegetable soups a lively flavor. Sauteing the onion in olive oil gives the soup a pleasing richness but you can skip this step to save time and calories. You can add 1 or 2 sliced celery ribs along with the potatoes.
To make this soup into a main course, stir in 2 cups strips or cubes of cooked chicken or beef or about 350 grams of tofu and heat them through in the soup. If you like, garnish the soup with lightly cooked green beans, zucchini strips or snow peas.
Makes 4 servings
2 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil 1 onion, chopped 2 cups vegetable, chicken or beef broth or water 3 cups water 3 or 4 potatoes (about 450 gr.), peeled if desired, diced 1 carrot, diced 1⁄2 cup diced turnip, mild radish or kohlrabi (optional) 1⁄2 cup chopped cabbage (optional) 1⁄4 tsp. turmeric, or to taste salt and freshly ground pepper 1⁄4 tsp. harissa or hot pepper sauce, or to taste 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) or parsley
Heat oil in a saucepan, add onion and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 7 minutes or until golden. Add broth, water, potatoes, carrot and turnip and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Cover and over low heat for 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Add a little more water if soup is too thick.
Add cabbage and turmeric and simmer for 5 minutes or until cabbage is tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and harissa. Stir in fresh coriander.
Serve hot.
This recipe is from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen. Madison writes: The presence of winter squash and carrots makes for a gorgeous red-gold soup that’s studded with chickpeas, seasoned with cumin, ginger and cilantro, and finished with either lentils or seasoned cooked beans called ful medames (fava beans), found at Middle Eastern markets. Once, while making this soup, I added a leftover dish of lentils and roasted beets. While I’m usually cautious about adding beets to dishes, given their ability to stain, I must say that they were beautiful and good as well, so there’s another idea to keep in mind.
In a perfect world I would make my own flatbread to serve alongside. Otherwise, I serve it with warmed whole-wheat pita or naan from a bakery.
Be sure the spices you use are fresh and potent, since old spices weaken in character.
Makes 10 cups.
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra to finish 1 onion, finely diced pinch of saffron threads 11⁄2 tsp. paprika 1 tsp. toasted ground cumin seeds 1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger 1⁄2 tsp. ground turmeric 2 carrots, sliced in rounds if small, quartered and sliced if large 1 celery rib, diced 1 heaping cup diced peeled winter squash, such as butternut 2 Tbsp. each, chopped parsley and fresh coriander (cilantro) one 800-gr. can diced tomatoes with juice, preferably organic one 400-gr. can chickpeas 1 cup cooked or canned fava beans, or 1 cup cooked lentils sea salt and ground pepper 1 cup skinny egg noodles, boiled in salt water until tender, then drained
Heat the oil in a wide soup pot, and then add the onion, saffron, and spices. Stir, then cook over medium heat while you dice the vegetables, stirring the onion now and then. Add the vegetables with half the parsley and cilantro. Cook slowly until the onion is soft, another 12 to 15 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chickpeas and their juices, the fava beans, plus enough water to give the soup the texture you like – another 2 to 3 cups. Simmer until the carrots are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Taste for salt and season with plenty of pepper.
Stir in the cooked noodles, garnish with the remaining chopped parsley and cilantro, and add a few drops of olive oil to each bowl.