Dear Brandy,

It’s your birthday, and as you’ve probably gathered, a few of us “got together” to throw you a virtual bash.

It was my job to make the soup course. I thought it would be fun to cook a Moroccan lentil soup, since that’s what we ate when we had lunch together in December.

This soup, which I made in my crockpot, doesn’t really taste anything like the other, but it’s still really good, especially with some of the homemade Harissa on top.

Brandy: I hope we get to have soup together again soon, and I wish you all the best this year…I just know it’s going to be an amazing one for you :)

Recipe for Crockpot Moroccan Lentil Soup with Harissa

Yield: 10+ servings

Harissa is a Northwest African chili paste. You can buy it in in the international section of some markets, but I really prefer to make it at home (the storebought versions I've tried were way too salty). If you opt not to make the Harissa, you can add a bit of cayenne pepper to the soup recipe to give it a little more heat.

Ingredients:

For the soup:

*1 tablespoons olive oil
*1 large onion, peeled and chopped
*4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
*2 organic carrots, chopped
*2 organic celery ribs, chopped
*one 28 ounce can organic plum tomatoes, with liquid
*2 cups red lentils, rinsed, picked over, and drained
*1/2 cup organic raisins
*4 cups vegetable broth or water
*1 teaspoons ground cumin
*2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
*1 1/2 teaspoons ground tumeric
*2 teaspoons paprika
*2 teaspoons ground ginger

For the Harissa:

*1 ounce dried hot chiles (I used guajillo), soaked in hot water for about 30 minutes to soften
*1 fat clove of garlic, peeled
*pinch of sea salt
*1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed to blend the harissa
*1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
*1 small handful of cilantro

Directions:

For the soup:

1. Place all ingredients in your crockpot. Turn it to the "low" setting, and cook for 7-8 hours (or even a bit more, if you like). Feel free to taste it and adjust the spice level and/or the amount of liquid while the soup is cooking.

2. Serve topped with a spoonful of the Harissa, which adds a nice little punch of spice.

For the Harissa:

1. Process all ingredients in a blender until a fairly smooth paste forms. Transfer to a small glass jar and top with a little more olive oil. Store the harissa you don't use up as a garnish for the soup in the refrigerator; it will keep for 3-4 weeks.

Additional courses made for Brandy’s Virtual Surprise Party:
Salad: Michigan Salad from Living Mostly Meatless
Pasta: Quinoa Linguine with Cherry Tomatoes and Bacon from Cooking with Books
Meat: Beef Machaca Tacos from Farm Girl Gourmet
Cheese: Cheese Plate from Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body
Dessert: White Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecake with Caramel Glaze from Creative Culinary