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Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

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In its original Moroccan form, harira is a relatively simple chickpea soup that may be made using either lamb or chicken for flavour rather than substance. Here the dish is closer to a liquid stew, with the chicken playing a central role.

Chickpeas, lentils and rice on the same plate may sound daunting, but any heaviness is avoided by deliberately breaking the preparation into separate steps to strike a new and sophisticated note. Care is taken to avoid overcooking the chicken and a main course emerges which manages to be satisfying without being too substantial. The addition of masses of coriander leaves and flat-leaf parsley just before serving makes the dish look ravishing while imparting a delicious freshness.


  • 200 g/7 oz dried chickpeas about 100 ml/ fl oz olive oil
  • 1.35 kg/3 lb chicken
  • 675 g/ lb onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2.5 cm/1 in piece of root ginger
  • 12 saffron threads
  • 900 g/2 lb ripe plum tomatoes or canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1.75 litres/3 pt chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 115 g/4 oz lentils
  • 115 g/4 oz basmati rice
  • large bunch of coriander leaves
  • bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • extra-virgin olive oil, to serve 6-8 pitta breads, to serve (optional)



The night before: put the chickpeas to soak in plenty of cold water.

Next morning: drain the chickpeas, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Drain again. Cover with fresh water by a depth of about 2.5 cm/1 in head and again bring to the boil. Lower the heat, film the surface with olive oil and cook at a bare simmer for 1 hour. Check periodically to make sure the chickpeas are always beneath the surface, adding more water as necessary. Bite into one to see if they are cooked. The pea should have some crunch, but be quite mealy. If still too hard, continue to simmer, tasting every 10 minutes until done to your satisfaction. Drain and reserve.

Dried chickpeas can be rehydrated more quickly by bringing them to a fast boil for 5 minutes in masses of water, then leaving them to stand for 1 hour. However, the overnight soaking delivers better results.

Joint the chicken, discarding wing-tips, parson’s nose and excess skin. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Peel the ginger. Put the saffron to soak in half a cup of hot water. Blanch, peel, deseed and chop the tomatoes, if using fresh.


Brown the chicken pieces, skin side down, in a little sunflower oil and reserve.

In a large saucepan, fry the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Add all the chicken pieces save the breasts and pour over the stock, vinegar and 1.1 litres/2 pt of water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and skim. Poach the chicken for 10 minutes or until just resilient when pressed. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a chopping board.

Add the lentils and tomatoes to the stock and simmer for 20 minutes, then add the rice and continue to bubble gently until both the lentils and rice are just cooked. Stir in the chickpeas.

Cut the meat from the chicken pieces. Slice each breast into 4 pieces and put all the chicken flesh into the pot together with the saffron and its soaking water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Grate the ginger. Destalk and coarsely chop the coriander and parsley leaves. Juice the lemon.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ginger, coriander, parsley, lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of olive oil.


Serve in large soup bowls. Put extra-virgin olive oil on the table for people to add more if they wish. Offer warm halved pitta breads from a cloth-lined basket at the table if you wish.

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