Moroccoan Food and My Dad

November 1, 2008

My dad is a retired doctor – an oncologist to be exact. He had a private practice for over 30 years and worked incredibly hard the whole time. The patients he had tended to be incredibly ill and he lost so very many of them to incurable cancers. He also saved a lot of them, or extended their lives beyond what they could have hoped for.

When I tell someone who knows him (a former patient, family member of a patient, or someone in the medical community) that I am his daughter, they unfailingly tell me what a wonderful man he is. I know. He is a great dad too. During my entire childhood, he worked very long hours, but it never seemed that way to me. He was very present when he was home, so it seemed that he was around a lot more than he actually was.

I worried a little about him retiring. Being a doctor, a good doctor, was so much a part of him and I wondered how he would transition to a life without that identity and with a lot more free time. I needn’t have worried. He and my mom have been incredibly active and busy basically since his retirement party. He took birding classes, joined a softball team, joined a cancer survivor support group (yes, he has also been a patient), and he and my mom have traveled all over the place. Last year they went to Austria and Germany on one trip and Italy on another.

Just last week, they left for Morocco. They are going with a tour group of sorts (an active tour group), but this was still a big step for them. Morocco is much more foreign than the other places they have traveled – except for Turkey a couple of summers ago. They were very excited to go but apprehensive. I can’t wait to hear their stories and see their pictures. A bonus of their trip is that they opted to start in Madrid – a place they had never been. My dad was an art history major (unusual for someone who is pre-med), and had never seen the Prado Museum. His favorite artist is Goya and there are some of the most incredible examples of his work in the Prado. My dad is five years post-op from his cancer and is incredibly healthy. It makes me very happy that he will see those amazing paintings and get to see Morocco.

In honor of their trip, I decided to do a Moroccan style dinner last week and at the heart of it was this amazing soup. It’s called Harira Soup and, among my many cookbooks, I have several recipes for it. The one I chose last week turned out to be my favorite yet. It comes from a marvelous cookbook called World Food Cafe, which is also an incredible restaurant in the Covent Garden area of London. Randy and I ate several meals there and I was always torn as to what to order (it is all vegetarian). World Food Cafe is owned by a husband and wife team and the husband just happens to be the Photographer-in-Residence for the Royal Geographic Society. The cookbook’s photography is stunning and the recipes reflect their travels all over the world.

Harira Soup
Adapted from
World Food Cafe
Serves 4-6

This soup is very easy to make but it does require a fair amount of chopping. Look at it as an opportunity to practice your knife skills! Like most soups, it tastes even better the next day, but will most likely be very thick. Add water as needed as you reheat it. You can also do some things ahead of time, like chop the celery and carrots (potatoes will discolor and onions will get too stinky), and measure out the spices.

Olive oil
1 large onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

tsp. saffron or tumeric
tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. paprika

2 tsp. ground coriander

2 large red potatoes, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

cup dried green lentils
2 tbsp. tomato paste

1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in heavy puree

2 cups vegetable stock

Water as needed

1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 oz. vermicelli (or angel hair pasta), broken up

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat and toss in the onions and a healthy pinch of salt. Saute the onions until soft. Add the garlic and stir for three minutes.

Add the parsley, ginger, black pepper, saffron or tumeric, cayenne, paprika, and coriander, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, lentils, and tomato paste. Stir well and add the tomatoes, stock, and enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, adding more water as necessary to make a thick soup.

Add the chickpeas and vermicelli and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Pour in the lemon juice and add salt to taste.


  1. How nice that your parents are enjoying retirement and traveling so much! I love morocco..when I visited there a few years ago I lived on harira and bread! Althought I suspect the soup had lamb stock :(
    The vermicelli is the best part! I didnt realize untill I read your recipe that the soup requires 45 minutes of simmering. But I bet its worth the time and effort; I’ll defenitely be making this, thanks!

    Comment by veggie belly — November 2, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

  2. In the instructions, you say to add potatoes but potatoes aren’t listed in the ingredients. How much do you need for this? Thanks.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 3, 2008 @ 12:59 am

  3. I love Moroccan food! I would love to go there some day- your parents are very lucky! My dad is also a doctor (pediatrician) and I felt the same way about him not seeming to be away all the time even though he worked (and still works) incredibly hard. Thanks for the great recipe!

    Comment by Emily Rose — November 3, 2008 @ 2:46 am

  4. Anonynous – thanks for the catch! I’m not sure how the potato got edited out of the recipe. Please re-check, it should be fixed.

    Veggie Belly and Emily Rose – make this dish, you won’t be disappointed!

    Comment by Dana Treat — November 3, 2008 @ 4:59 am

  5. Thank you for posting a vegetarian version of harirra! I’ve been wanting to make this for ages, but haven’t made the time to find a veggie version. I LOVE moroccan food!

    Comment by Jesse — November 3, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

  6. Your dad sounds like a really inspiring fellow. :) I hope they enjoy Madrid and Morocco…I’d love to go there one day!

    Comment by Mrs. LC — November 3, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

  7. I have the World Cafe cookbook and have only made a few things out of it–all of them good, but I sometimes forget to use it. Thanks for a great reminder recipe! This is a good time of year on the East Coast to eat deliciously spicy dishes, so I’m going to make it this weekend to share with friends.

    Comment by kmarie — November 10, 2011 @ 11:27 am

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