November 21, 2010

Four Fantastic Winter Soups from Turkey and Morocco

As I was testing the recipes for my Turkish and Moroccan cooking classes in Moscow I played with different soups to be served as warming and fulling starters. Both Turkish and Moroccan cuisines have delicious and hearty takes on vegetarian soups with grains and legumes so perfect in winter. Yet some require up to two hours to make. I did not have two hours to fiddle with a soup so I needed to come up with the shortcuts without altering the customary flavor. 
Turkish vs. Moroccan Soups
I have chosen two popular Turkish soups and two Moroccan ones for the testing: for each country one soup was legume and vegetable based and the other one had diary products and grains in it.

Let me start with the hearty legume and vegetable fair. Turkish lentil soup (mercimek çorbası) and Moroccan chickpea soup (harira) are the backbone of the Turkish and Moroccan diet respectively. Not only they can be  savored as breakfast, lunch or dinner but also come on the tables as a starter of choice during the Ramadan when people break the day fasting. The popularity of these soups makes them incredibly versatile as different chefs and home cooks have their own favorites among the classic ingredients - you can hardly except to eat a bowl of exactly the same red lentil soup you had somewhere in Turkey if you head out to another restaurant or home. 

Now to the lighter diary and grains soups - Turkish yogurt soup (yayla çorbası) and Moroccan barley soup (hhsoua belboula). Both are much lighter than their legume-basesd brothers yet both are satisfying and giving you energy. No wonder that yogurt soup is cooked in Turkey for the family members that fall sick and barley soup in Morocco is often made for breast-feeding young mothers. I have picked these two soups for testing as both are  unusual takes on the ingredients that we use in Russia: sour milk products (such as yogurt) are hardly served warm and no one would really think of adding cumin and olive oil to the barley milk porridge.

Everything looked appealing about those soups besides the cooking time: traditional harira takes two good hours to make and I remember that it also took ages  at the Turkish kitchens to make lentil soup even with a pressure cooker. As I did not have such luxury as a couple of extra hours at my evening cooking classes I need to come up with shortcuts. 

1. First, I have figured that overnight soaking works well to reduce the cooking time not only for legumes but also for grains. And the fact that soaked grains require less time for cooking means that they will be thermally treated for a shorter time keeping more nutritional value to themselves and to those luckies who will be eating them eventually. Nice, no? Your rice (and Turkish yogurt soup for that matter) will make it quicker to your table and will turn more nutritional too. 

2. Second, I have realized the wisdom of chefs who keep stocks of pre-cooked foods used for their dishes. Think of chickpeas and all the deliciousness that can be produced of them but then their overnight soaking and 2-hour cooking does not seem too much fun to do it very often. So why not to cook a batch of those and store in the freezer? Making harira, Moroccan chickpea soup will take only 30 minutes instead of two hours then. Not to mention that much more often you will want to cook other delicious soups, hummus, falafel (if you freeze the soaked yet uncooked ones) and what not based on the chickpeas.

3. And finally third, making soups  may be a great a way to utilize the leftovers of grains and legumes you had from any previous meals: yogurt soup with rice becomes a matter of minutes and so is the lentil soup. Turning foods from one substance to another is so much fun and also a kind gesture of yours: what did not succeed to be eaten fully as a garnish can get a second chance when becoming a soup.

Based on these considerations I have modified the recipes of the four soups and as a result cut the cooking time by half in all the cases. I hope you will enjoy the soups and more time for yourself!

Turkish Red Lentil SoupTurkish Red Lentil Soup Recipe,
Mercimek Çorbası

Perfectly smooth texture of this Turkish classic is so soothing that it helps me get over any misery in life.

Adapted from Zeliha Irez of Zeliş Çiftliği

Preparation time: 5 min
Cooking time: 20-30 min (depending on the lentils)

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):
1 glass red lentils
boiling water: 2 glasses for lentils + 2 glasses to be added later
vegetable oil: 2 tbsp for vegetables + 4 tbsp for flour
1 medium size onion, peeled and diced
1 medium size potato, peeled and grated
1 medium size carrot, peeled and grated
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp cumin
salt to taste
2 tbsp butter for serving
1 tsp red pepper flakes for serving

1. Cook lentils: In a medium size casserole bring water to boil. In the meantime wash the red lentils and put in the boiling water. Cook according to the instructions on the package (usually 10-20 minutes).
2. Prepare vegetables: Meanwhile, put a frying pan over high heat; pour olive oil and immediately add onion, carrots and potatoes. Simmer uncovered until soft and make sure to stir now and then to prevent burning.
3. Make the soup: Once the vegetables are cooked add to the lentils and puree well with the blender until smooth. Add 2 glasses of the boiling water and blend again.
4. Thicken the soup: Now you need to add a bit of the fried flour that makes the soup texture simply perfect. Here is how you go about it: put the olive oil on a hot frying pen and add the four. Keep stirring until the flour browns a bit – as you will smell the boiling butter remove the frying pen from the heat, you don’t want to burn it. Stir the mixture into the soup; add cumin, salt to taste and blend. Put the soup back over medium heat to warm up – make sure to stir the soup continuously so it does not burn on the bottom.
5. Serve: For serving melt the butter on a small frying pen and add the red pepper flakes. Sauté for a 30 seconds and drizzle over the soup served in the individual bowls.

Turkish Yogurt SoupTurkish Yogurt Soup Recipe, Yayla Çorbası

Flavors of  yogurt and mint evoke warm summer memories and make the winter seem shorter.

Preparation time: 5 min
Cooking time: 20 min (with pre-soaked rice)

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):
100 g white medium grain rice
5 glasses water
250 g plain yogurt
50 ml milk
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
salt to taste
2 tbsp butter for serving
1 tbsp dry mint for serving


1. Soak the rice (the night before): Wash the rice and put in a bowl with 3 glasses of hot water to soak overnight.
2. Cook the rice: In a medium size casserole bring water to boil. Drain and wash the soaked rice and place in the casserole with the boiling water. Cook tightly covered with the lid for 5 minutes; turn off the heat and without opening it leave covered for 5 more minutes.
3. Make the soup: Meanwhile in a small bowl mix the yogurt, milk, egg yolk and flour until smooth. Add a few spoons of the liquid from the casserole with the rice (once cooked) and stir well. Now slowly pour out the mixture into the casserole while stirring very slowly. Cook for 5 more minutes over low heat; make sure to stir the soup continuously so it does not burn on the bottom.
4. Serve: For serving melt the butter on a small frying pen and add the dry mint. Sauté for 30 seconds and drizzle over the soup served in the individual bowls.

Moroccan Chickpea SoupVegetarian Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) Recipe

Harira and Circuses! - chanting the hungry crowds that gather everyday for both on the legendary square Djemma El Fna in Marrakesh.

Adapted from La Cuisine Marocaine 

Preparation time: 10 min (with pre-cooked legumes)
Cooking time: 30 min

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):
1½ large onion, grated
½ glass lentils, pre-cooked*
200 g chickpeas, pre-cooked**
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp tomato paste
2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp vermicelli
2 tbsp fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 liter boiling water
½ tsp ground pepper
1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp ground ginger
pinch of ground turmeric
pinch of rasa el hanut
2 threads of Moroccan saffron
2 tsp salt

1. Cook the soup: Put a large soup casserole over medium heat to warm up. Add oil and then onion, celery, chopped parsley, half of the chopped coriander and spices; let simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and let simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes stirring now and then. Add tomato paste, pre-cooked lentils and chickpeas and stir well – let simmer for 5 more minutes. Add water and bring to boil, then let cook for 5 minutes longer.
2. Thicken the soup: In a cup dissolve the flour in a small quantity of water and carefully mix into the soup constantly stirring. Let cook for 5 more minutes stirring now and then for the flour to expand. Put the vermicelli and let cook for 5 more minutes.
3. Serve: Garnished with the rest of the chopped cilantro when serving.

* Tip for cooking lentils: Cook lentils in the slightly salted water: make sure the volume of water you use is double the volume of the lentils. Cook for about 30-40 minutes for green and brown lentils and 10-20 minutes for the red ones.
** Tip for cooking chickpeas: Soak the chickpeas overnight and discard the water. Add new water to fully cover the chickpeas, bring to boil and cook for about 2 hours over low heat. Now and then check in the chickpeas to make sure there is enough water. Drain the cooked chickpeas. You can cook larger quantity ahead and keep them in a freezer for a few months .

Moroccan Barley SoupMoroccan Barley Soup (Hssoua Belboula) Recipe

It is a miracle how a simple soup like this makes grow-ups and kids endlessly happy (and full) - but it does!

Adapted from Christine Benlafquih 

Preparation time: 10 min
Cooking time: 20 min (with pre-soaked barley)

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):
100 g barley grits
2 glasses water
4 glasses milk
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp butter
½ tsp salt

1. Prepare the barley grits (the night before): Wash the barley in the cold water changing the water a few times until the water becomes clear. Put in a bowl with 3 glasses of hot water to soak overnight.
2. Make the soup: In a small soup bowl bring water and milk to boil. Drain and wash the soaked barley grits and add into the boiling water and milk, add olive oil and cumin and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes until the grains become tender. Add salt to taste and stir in butter.

4 Responses to Four Fantastic Winter Soups from Turkey and Morocco:

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

Both the Turkish soups are my favorite. Though I haven't tried the Moroccan ones. May be because I 'm yet to travel to Morroco!

Medifast Coupons said...

Four awesome sounding soups all in one post, thanks so much.
We are soup people love them for dinner.

AJ said...

These soups looks awesome!!

Olga Tikhonova said...

Kulsum: I am glad it was spot on) I am a big fan of Morocco and I am convinced that every traveling foodie should go there one day - they do have very authentic dishes and preparation techniques to get inspired with!

Medifast Coupons: my pleasure! And the add on bonus - all of them are extremely healthy and nutritious!

Apu: thank you very much)

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