‘You went vegan, why would you do that to yourself?’ I heard a robust, bearded man say at a social event I recently attended. The context was clear – a friend of mine confessed to the crowd that she had recently decided to go from vegetarian to full vegan, and this rather abrasive gentleman couldn’t help but view her lifestyle choice as some for of punishment or self-flagellation. In hearing the exchange it reminded me that the more dogmatic carnivores out there tend to view vegan and even vegetarian food as insipid, bland or even downright disgusting.
I should come out and be honest – I, Meryem Mortell – founder and Head Chef at Zayane, am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. However, what I find bizarre is the brazen ignorance when it comes to the utter deliciousness of vegan cuisine.
Moroccan food has plenty of examples of dishes that have been vegan and vegetarian way before it was ‘trendy’ – in fact they are traditionally made as 100% plant-based dishes simple because that is how they are often most delicious.
In my humble view, the most stunning example of Moroccan cuisine’s potential for vegan goodness is Morocco’s most famous soup – Harira.
Harira is made – and savoured – throughout Morocco.
It can be made vegan or vegetarian – in some cases it is made with pieces of meat in it. At Zayane we make it 100% vegan both because that is how I personally think it taste best and most authentic, but also to include all dietary requirements in it’s utter deliciousness. Our version is essentially a spiced tomato soup rich with herbs and pulses – it isn’t gluten free as it contains both flour and vermicelli (however, we are able to make it gluten free – please just let us know 24 hours before you dine with Zayane!). I personally make every fragrant and warming batch of harira at Zayane. I once entrusted this important task to my son and co-Head Chef Joe, and suffice it to say that despite him being an amazing Moroccan chef, it didn’t turn out quite the way I like it… I suppose one has to literally be from Morocco to make it taste perfectly authentic (sorry Joe!). Whether or not my version taste as authentic and delicious as I think it does, all I can say is that most of our Moroccan customers have confessed that it reminds them of their mum’s harira back home, which is rather flattering!
Like most of my Moroccan culinary repertoire, my ability to cook amazing harira came through my mother’s tutelage.
Her version – which included egg and small tender chunks of lamb – was (and remains) exquisite and the talk of the town throughout the year, but in particular during Ramadan. During this holy period in Morocco, harira soup is enjoyed daily as it is packed full of vitamins and minerals and helps revive and re-energise us after the day of fasting. During Ramadan the tempting fragrance of harira playfully wafts through the air as you pass by each house where it is being prepared for iftar, or when we break our fast after sundown. At Zayane we are proud to announce that Sky TV recently filmed a special about how I make my harira soup – it will be showing next month just before the start of Ramadan.
So after all this talk of harira, you probably want to enjoy a piping hot bowl, yourself.
The easy solution is to find your way to Zayane in Notting Hill where I can personally serve you some. Or… you can make it yourself at home with Zayane’s own recipe! To be perfectly honest, as Joe experienced, making harira isn’t the easiest dish to make for a novice as the quantity of concasse tomatoes, herbs, spices and flour have to be right for it to come out perfect. But don’t worry – I’ve made the following recipe with these difficulties in mind to make your cooking efforts a bit easier!
Enjoy and please don’t forget to tell us what you think of our recipe on social media!
Recipe for Zayane’s Harira
- 1 celery chopped finely
- 1 bowl of chopped parsley
- 1 bowl of chopped coriander
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 kg of tomatoes skinned, de-seeded and chopped or 1 bottle of passata.
- 2tbsp of tomato purée
- 1 cup of brown lentils
- 1 tin of chickpeas
- 2 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp turmeric
- salt/pepper to taste
- 2 vegetarian stock cubes
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 tsp aged butter (optional)
- 2 tbsp vermicelli
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- Put celery, herbs, lentils, onion, tomato purée and spices in a large heavy pan and cook for 10 minutes.
- Cover with water to 3/4 of the pan. Cook until lentils are cooked about 40 minutes. Add tomatoes and stock cubes. Cook for 15 minutes. Add vermicelli and chickpeas. Cook for 3 minutes.
- Prepare flour mix. Put flour in a large bowl add 2 cups of cold water, mix into a paste with no lumps. Add water if too thick. It has to be the consistency of French pancakes.
- Add to the soup while stirring constantly. Cook for another 20 min. Add the aged butter if desired. Enjoy!