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Add a twist to vegetable soup with the tangy condiment Chermoula

Do you have a vegetable garden or access to one? How about plenty of time on your hands?

If you answer yes to both of these questions, now is a good time to make Morrocan Vegetable Soup with Chermoula, which is, I admit, somewhat time-consuming. But it's not difficult. And even if you’re cooking just for yourself, you get a lot of bang for your buck. The soup improves with age for the first two or three days, and you can also freeze a portion of it.

The better the ingredients you use, the better the soup will be.

Choose garlic that is heavy in your hand, as it will have plenty of juice. Peeling and slicing the garlic is the most time-consuming part of preparing the dish. Once that is out of the way, you are close to relaxing with a glass of wine or another preferred beverage.

For a gluten-free version, consider replacing the couscous or pasta with quinoa. If you do, be sure to read the instructions that should come with it; it needs to be soaked and rinsed before cooking or it will retain so much of its natural bitterness that it may eclipse the other flavors and ruin the soup.

The lovely soup, not unlike Italian minestrone and French soupe au pistou, has layers of delicious flavor. It is rich and satisfying enough that it can be a main course at dinner; just add some good bread and a simple salad alongside. If you happen to have commercial harissa but not the suggested chile and spices, you can use a tablespoon of it as a substitute.

Moroccan Vegetable Soup with Chermoula

Makes 6 to 10 servings

Chermoula, recipe follows

6 tablespoons smen (see Note below) or unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated on the large blade of a box grater

1 large garlic bulb, cloves separated, peeled and sliced very thinly

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

1 dried chile, such as ancho, lightly toasted, stem and seeds removed

½ teaspoon caraway seed

½ teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

8 cups rich chicken or beef stock, preferably homemade, or vegetable stock

3 large beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

3 small zucchini, preferably Romanesco, cut into half moons

2 small patty-pan squash, each cut into 6 equal wedges

2 small to medium carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch wide diagonal slices

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch lengths

2 large red bell peppers, skins seared and peeled, stems and seeds removed

½ cup Israeli couscous or acini di pepe, lightly toasted in a dry pan

First, make the chermoula and set it aside. (recipe below)

Put half the smen into a soup pot set over medium heat and when it is melted, add the onion and cook until it is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Do not let the onion brown. Add the garlic, sauté 2 minutes more and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, scrape the flesh of the chile from its skin, transfer it to a mortar or suribachi, add the caraway and coriander and use a wooden pestle to crush everything into a paste. Add the cumin and paprika, season with salt, mix well and stir into the onion and garlic mixture.

Add the stock, along with 4 cups of water and the tomatoes, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer very gently until the flavors come together, about 20 minutes.

While the soup simmers, put the remaining smen into a heavy skillet and, when it is melted, add the zucchini, squash, carrots and green beans. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to take on a bit of color but have not yet softened. Transfer them to the soup pot and add the couscous. Continue to cook gently until the couscous is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Working quickly, cut the roasted bell peppers into medium (¼-inch wide) julienne and stir them into the soup.

To serve, ladle into soup plates and top each portion with two generous tablespoons of chermoula. Enjoy right away, with the remaining chermoula alongside.

Note: Smen is preserved butter used in Moroccan cooking. To make it, melt 2 sticks unsalted butter in a small saucepan set over low heat. After the butter melts, use a spoon to skim off any impurities that rise to the top. Wrap 2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves in a square of cheesecloth, tie with a cotton string and set in the melted butter. Simmer very gently for 20 to 25 minutes, until the liquid butter is golden and a milky sediment has formed on the bottom of the pan. Remove and discard the oregano sachet. Carefully pour the butter (now clarified) into a hot sterilized jar, leaving behind the milk solids. Stir in 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Cool the mixture, cover and refrigerate. Pour off any liquid that remains after the butter becomes solid. Use within 6 months.

Variation: For an even heartier soup, top each portion with an egg that has been poached for 2 minutes.

Chermoula is a tangy condiment used throughout Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Its cousins include Italian salsa verde, French pistou and Argentine chimichurri, any of which can be used in this soup.

Chermoula

Makes about 1¼ cup

3 to 4 garlic cloves

Kosher salt

1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

½ cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons sweet paprika, preferably Spanish

1 teaspoon hot paprika, preferably Spanish

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon chipotle powder or piment d’Espelette

Juice of 2 lemons

½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

Put the garlic into a mortar or suribachi, sprinkle lightly with salt and use a wooden pestle to crush the garlic into a paste. Add the cilantro and parsley and continue to grind with the wooden pestle until a uniform puree is formed. Add the paprikas, cumin and chipotle powder (or piment d’Espelette) and stir in the lemon juice.

Season with salt and stir in the olive oil. Taste and correct for salt and acid, adding more salt if the sauce tastes flat and more olive oil if it is too tart.

Cover and chill; remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before using.

Chermoula will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but it is best the day it is made.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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