This harissa-spiked vegetarian Moroccan lentil stew recipe includes the perfect balance of sweet and savory with a touch of heat. It’s perfect as a main course or a side dish to serve alongside couscous or other Moroccan dishes.
Recipe Stats For This Harissa Lentils Recipe
Vegan | Moroccan | One Pot | 45 Minutes
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Tools For This Recipe:
- UnoCasa Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven – Good quality dutch oven at a great price and the perfect size for soups and stews. Buy direct from UnoCass here.
- Zulay Premium Garlic Press – I prefer to mince or press garlic so that it blends better and there aren’t big pieces of garlic in the final stew.
- Cuisinart Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Sieves – When soaking lentils, I use a sieve rather than a colander so the lentils don’t sneak through the holes.
- Mina Moroccan Harissa – One of the two main harissa brands I normally cook with
The reason why we’ve been cooking so much Moroccan is that the country inspired us during a trip to Morocco in 2019. Some of the best Moroccan food we ate on our trip involved lentils and pulses. Most of these were served as Moroccan starters but can also be a main dish, particularly for the locals.
The lentils and beans were often flavored with tomato, onion, cumin, and cilantro or coriander. One dish, in particular, became a quick favorite.
Although I never caught the name of the Arabic Morrocan name of the dish, it was always listed on a Moroccan menu as simply “lentils” in English or lentejas in Spanish. It is a simple lentil dish, made with coriander and cumin. It’s the inspiration for this Moroccan lentil stew.
Check out some of our other Vegetarian Moroccan Recipes:
Want to learn more about how to cook Moroccan vegetarian recipes? Check these out:
What Kind Of Lentils To Use In A Moroccan Stew
Really any kind of lentils will work for this recipe. I prefer using green or brown lentils because they tend to hold their shape a little better when cooking. Other types of lentils can get a little more mushy and can lose their shape.
In particular, red lentils are smaller and cook quicker. Green lentils are the largest of the three. In between are brown lentils, which are just right. I sound like Goldilocks, right? If using green lentils for this recipe, it might take a little longer for them to cook.
Because green and brown lentils are a little more hearty when they are done cooking they are not soft and mushy. There is a bit of firmness still left in them. That’s why I like cooking with them. They also tend to present well when entertaining.
How To Soak Lentils
Although it is not necessary to soak the lentils for this stew recipe, it speeds up the cooking time. It also doesn’t take too long. I like to start the recipe by soaking the lentils. That way they can sit while I’m prepping the rest of the ingredients.
Place the lentils in a bowl at least twice the size as the amount of lentils. Fill the bowl with cool water until it is at least an inch higher than the lentils. Stir the lentils.
Let the lentils sit for 10-15 minutes. They will start to plump and soak in the water. There will be less water after about 10 minutes than at the beginning.
After 10-15 minutes, drain what water remains. Add more water to cover the lentils and then drain again. This rinses the lentils of any extra starchiness. It’s best to use a sieve (like this one) rather than a colander to drain because the lentils can escape through a colander that has larger holes.
Check out this Lebanese Lemon Lentil Soup Recipe for more ways to cook lentils.
Harissa – Moroccan Red Chili Paste
Harissa is a chili paste that is popular in Northern Africa cuisine. It’s normally made with a mix of chili peppers, cumin, and coriander. We fell in love with the flavor of harissa when traveling in Morocco, so harissa lentils just seemed natural.
Moroccan cuisine is not generally spicy, but harissa is served on the side of a lot of dishes allowing diners to add their own spice. I like to cook with harissa because we like spicy food and the harissa adds a depth of flavor that you can’t get from just adding fresh peppers.
It’s becoming a lot more common to find harissa at grocery stores in the US and in the UK. Look for it in the international food aisle. You can find harissa in a tube or a jar.
I look for jarred harissa, which looks almost like red pesto. I like the harissa by Mina, which you can buy on Amazon here. Like harissa? Check out this recipe for Moroccan Roasted Harissa Chicken With Chickpeas.
Why Add Harissa To A Moroccan Lentils Recipe
I love cooking with lentils. One of the benefits of cooking with lentils is that they do a great job of taking on the flavors, seasonings, and spices used to cook them.
If you don’t have harissa for this recipe, you can just skip it. Or, use some crushed red pepper for a little heat. The harissa, though, adds the perfect amount of spice and an extra layer of flavor that just makes the lentils shine!
Ingredients For This Moroccan Vegetarian Lentil Stew Recipe
The base for this Moroccan lentil stew includes olive oil and vegetable broth. If you are not a vegetarian, chicken broth can be used as well.
The seasoning comes from a bit of yellow onion, pressed garlic, and coriander. I like to use a garlic press too so that there aren’t big chunks of garlic in the stew. Try the Zulay stainless steel garlic press, which is easy to use. There’s no need to even peel the garlic ahead of time.
Whenever I use coriander (or cilantro) in a lentil stew, I like to chop the stems of the coriander into tiny pieces to add in with the garlic and onion. This helps to infuse the oil with the flavor of coriander without having to use coriander leaves. When you use coriander leaves during cooking they can turn brown and look unappetizing.
For vegetables, add diced carrots and diced red pepper. Green or yellow peppers are fine, but I find the red pepper adds nice color to the lentil stew.
A little bit of tomato paste adds some acidity to the dish. I tend to keep a tube of concentrated tomato paste at home so that I can add a squeeze when needed. You can buy tomato paste on Amazon here.
In addition to harissa, the spice for the stew comes from ground cumin and cinnamon. The cumin adds a nice, earthy flavor. The cinnamon adds a little bit of sweetness to offset the spice of the harissa.
Then, add some bay leaves to give some depth to the flavor of the lentils. Just remember to count how many you add in so you know how many to take out at the end.
How To Prepare This Moroccan Lentils Recipe
Warm a small dutch-oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to warm.
Once the olive oil is warm, add the onion, garlic, and coriander stems. Coat them in olive oil for about 2-3 minutes. Once they start to sweat add the carrots, red pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. Coat the vegetables in the spices. Cook until the carrots start to sweat and soften, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the vegetable broth, lentils, harissa, and bay leaves. Bring to a slight boil and then reduce to simmer. Cook 30-35 minutes uncovered or until the lentils are soft but not mushy.
Stir occasionally and adjust if you need to add a bit more broth. Be sure to taste the lentils themselves. They should not be crunchy, which means they need more time.
After about 35 minutes, do a taste test and add more harissa if desired, adjust salt and pepper to taste, and add tomato paste. Stir through to warm. Don’t forget to remove bay leaves.
Serve with freshly chopped coriander or topped with raisins for sweetness.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced small
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 tablespoon of coriander stems, diced
- 2 medium-sized carrots, diced small
- 1 small red pepper, diced small
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon harissa
- 1 cup dried lentils, soaked, rinsed, and drained
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Soak the lentils in cool water will prepping the other ingredients, about 10 minutes.
- Warm a small dutch-oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to warm.
- Once the olive oil is warm, add the onion, garlic, and coriander stems. Coat them in olive oil and cook about 2-3 minutes or until they start to soften.
- Add the carrots, red pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. Coat the vegetables in the spices. Cook until the carrots start to sweat and soften, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the vegetable broth, lentils, harissa, and bay leaves.
- Bring to a slight boil and then reduce to simmer. Cook 30-35 minutes uncovered or until the lentils are soft but not mushy.
- Do a taste test and add more harissa if desired, adjust salt and pepper, and add tomato paste. Stir through to warm the tomato paste.
- Remove bay leaves.
- Serve with freshly chopped coriander or topped with raisins for sweetness.
This recipe results in 4 servings as a main course or 6 servings as a side dish.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 178Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 490mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 8gSugar: 5gProtein: 6g
This nutritional data is provided by a third-party source and should not be relied on if you are on a strict diet.
Serving The Moroccan Stew With Lentils
Unlike Indian or Southwestern cuisine, it’s not common to serve a dish like this over rice. Instead, in Morocco, a dish like this would be served as a side dish with bread.
If you can top the stew with raisins, or even throw the raisins into the stew at the end, it really makes the flavor of the stew jump. When I reheated the lentils for Eric I forgot the raisins. After a few bites, he grabbed them out of the pantry. The lentils were good before, but became something truly special with the addition of the raisins!
Modifications And Variations
To make a Moroccan chickpea and lentil stew, add a cup of garbanzo beans at the same time as the lentils. To make a Moroccan vegetable and lentil stew, add in other vegetables. Cauliflower goes really well with the rest of the flavors.