This sweet and savory Moroccan harissa lentils stew recipe is a perfect dish to introduce to any Moroccan-style dinner party or to serve for a savory midweek meal. It pairs perfectly with Moroccan ingredients, such as meatballs or lamb, but can stand-alone as a Moroccan vegan stew.
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Vegan | One Pot Dish | 45 Minute Cook Time | Moroccan
Harissa Lentil Stew
We adore cooking Moroccan food at our house, which has been the case since we returned from a trip to this stunning country in 2019. Before our visit, lentils and pulses weren’t something we regularly used in cooking.
But in Morocco, these are staple ingredients in many dishes, especially when it comes to vegan and vegetarian food. After trying many meals with lentils, we came to love them, and now we eat them a couple of times a week. Between Moroccan and all of our Spanish recipes I learned living in Spain, we simply love lentils. By adding harissa, this becomes a smoky and spicy dish packed with flavor.
Why Make A Moroccan Lentil Stew
This Moroccan lentil stew recipe is a great dish that I often serve as a main course or an accompaniment to other Moroccan meals.
Lentils and other pulses are great ingredients because they soak up flavors so well. When used in Moroccan cooking, they absorb the tomatoes and spices perfectly.
I am not sure of the traditional name for this Moroccan lentil stew, but on menus in Morocco, it’s simply listed as lentils (lentejas in Spanish), which tells me the locals know exactly what they’re getting when they see that. I have used this classic dish as the base for my Moroccan lentil stew recipe.
What Lentils to Use In Your Vegetarian Moroccan Stew
Moroccan vegetarian recipes are often highly versatile, meaning you can put your own twist on the ingredients. This also goes for the lentils you wish to use.
For these harissa lentils, any color of lentil works well. It’s all down to preference and how you like your lentils. Green and brown lentils hold their shape well and remain relatively firm, whereas red soften and melt into your stew, giving a smooth consistency. Red lentils also cook a lot quicker.
I like to use green lentils in my version of Moroccan lentil stew because I like the fact that they stay plump, even if they require a longer cooking time. Personally, I think they are worth the wait.
Before making this Moroccan vegetarian recipe, you don’t necessarily have to soak your lentils. However, it will speed up the cooking process, especially using green or brown lentils.
For this recipe, I often opt to soak my lentils just while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
To soak your lentils:
- Place them into a bowl and cover them with cold water.
- Leave them to sit for around 15 minutes before draining and adding more water.
- Keep repeating this process until all the starchiness of the lentils is removed, and the water is running clear.
I find it best to use a sieve instead of the colander because the holes are small enough not to lose your lentils.
What Is Harissa?
Harissa is a Moroccan red chili paste that is popular in North Africa. It’s a combination of cumin, cilantro, and peppers. It’s a commonly used ingredient in Moroccan cuisine, and we now use it a lot in our home cooking, especially when preparing lentil dishes.
Moroccan cuisine is not known to be overly spiced, but earthy seasonings are often combined with warming spices to create a wholesome flavor. You will often find that in restaurants in Morocco, spices like harissa and cumin are on the tables alongside salt and pepper.
A couple of years ago, I don’t think harissa was as commonly used in other countries as it is now, and it’s still becoming more and more popular in dishes worldwide. You can easily pick it up in most grocery stores now as a paste or powder, though these two have very different flavors.
I like to use harissa from a jar for this dish, which looks similar to red pesto. Don’t get them confused, though.
Harissa works exceptionally well with lentils, probably because, as I said earlier, lentils are great for absorbing and taking on flavors from other ingredients.
However, worry not, if you don’t like harissa or can’t get your hands on any. This recipe works just as well without it, and you could even substitute it with some crushed red chili flake or paprika.
Vegetarian Moroccan Stew – Ingredients
This dish’s main ingredient is lentils, but the base for the sauce is simply vegetable stock and olive oil. However, the chicken stock also works well if you’re not strictly vegetarian.
The flavor of the dish comes from garlic, onions, and cilantro. You want your garlic to be pressed so that you don’t have any large pieces of it in your finished dish.
I use fresh cilantro in this recipe, and I like to finely chop the stalks and cook them with garlic and onions, it gives a natural, fresh flavor to the dish, and you can save the leaves for garnishing your stew later.
You will also need carrots and diced red bell pepper. You can use green or yellow if you prefer; however, I like the sweetness, and color red brings to the dish.
To add a bit of acidity to the stew, pop in some tomato paste. You can pick this up for a low price if you don’t already have it in your pantry.
Finally, you will need your spices: cinnamon, cumin bay leaves, and harissa; this combination offers nuttiness, sweetness, and a rounded earthy flavor. Just remember how many bay leaves you have placed in so you can remove them before serving.
Moroccan Lentil Stew – Preparation
Heating a large saucepan or medium dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and allow to warm.
Add the onion, garlic and cilantro stems to the pan and stir into the olive oil for around 2-3 minutes. Once they have begun to soften, add the pepper, carrot, cumin, and cinnamon to the pan, and coat the vegetables with the spices. Cook the mixture for around 4-5 minutes until the carrots soften.
Add the broth, lentils, bay leaves, and harissa, and bring the pan to a boil before reducing it to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes until the lentils are cooked through.
Check on your stew occasionally and give it a good stir to ensure that the lentils aren’t catching on the bottom of the pan; otherwise, they can potentially burn.
After the cooking time is up, check your stew for seasoning, and add salt, pepper, or more harissa if desired. Also, add in your tomato paste at this stage and mix well to warm through.
Remove the bay leaves from the pan and divide them into bowls topped with fresh cilantro.
Moroccan Lentil Stew Recipe
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 medium carrots, finely sliced into rounds
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro stalks
- 1 cup dried lentils
- 1 tbsp tomato past
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp harissa
- 3 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper
- Soak lentils in cold water, drain and refresh the water every 10-15 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large saucepan, and add onions, garlic, and cilantro stalks. Cook for 2-3, stirring continuously.
- Add carrots, pepper, cumin, and cinnamon, and mix well. Cook for 3-5 minutes.
- Add the broth, bay leaves, harissa, and lentils.
- Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-35 minutes until the lentils are cooked.
- Check for seasoning, and add tomato paste. Mix well and warm through.
- Remove the bay leaves from the pan and divide them between bowls garnished with fresh cilantro.
This recipe serves four servings as a main course or 6-8 servings as a side dish
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 169Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 482mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 6gSugar: 4gProtein: 6g
This nutritional data is provided by a third-party source and should not be relied on if you are on a strict diet.