May 31, 2012

Sephardi Chickpea Soup: Serve Hot or Cold!

I picked up a wonderful book at the library, which is part cookbook, part travelogue:  The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan (2001) in which she shares more than 300 recipes as she makes her way around Israel, stopping in different neighborhoods representing different cultures.  You'll also find anecdotes and personal histories revealed by people young and old as they share backstories behind their passion for food and cooking.  Truly a wonderful read.

I decided to try a chickpea or "hummus soup" from the book.  Intended as a cold, refreshing soup, the original recipe contains simple ingredients in plentiful supply in Israel: chickpeas, lemon, vegetable broth and a garnish of fresh thyme.  The recipe is shared by Haim Cohen, of Turkish-Israeli descent and chef at Keren restaurant in Tel Aviv.

The original recipe is beautiful in it's simplicity:  chickpeas and vegetable broth in a food processor, strained until just the creamy part remains, with a bit of olive oil, lemon and parmesan cheese.

But I wanted to adapt the recipe to a full-bodied soup which could appeal to husband and 4 yr old alike.  While Avi likes hummus with pita, chips, or baby carrots, I didn't think she'd go for the novel texture of a hummus soup.  My adaptation is more recognizable as "soup" but uses the same basic idea, but with the addition of fresh vegetables and plenty of herbs in the soup itself, not just reserved as a garnish.  It still tastes wonderful hot or cold--cold soup can make for a refreshing lunch on a hot afternoon, but generally, Americans, or rather, folks from Ohio, tend to regard soup as solely a hot dish, and can't get past the temperature change.  My adaptation tastes just as good hot too, so no worries hot-only soupers!

I imagine adding your own favorite herbs and veggies would likewise produce a wonderful soup for you, so feel free to experiment.
Adaptation of a Sephardi Chickpea Soup recipe.

The stock:

Instead of vegetable broth, I made a chicken-vegetable stock.  I tossed a couple thighs and drumsticks (thawed) into the crockpot, added chopped celery (2 large stalks), carrots (a large handful of baby carrots, coarsely chopped), onion, bay leaves, and a hearty helping of assorted fresh herbs from our garden (lemon balm, lemon thyme, fennel, and rosemary), peppercorns, a couple generous pinches of salt, and filled up the remaining space with water.  I let this cook on low overnight.  I just rinsed the herbs and tossed them in, I did not chop or pull the leaves off the stems.  These are just to help flavor the stock, and will be removed at the next step.

If you're using dry chickpeas, go ahead and rinse and soak them overnight too.

The next morning, I pulled out the chicken pieces and set them aside.  I then strained the stock so that only the liquid was reserved.  I personally don't like the taste or texture of vegetables which have been stewing like this, so I let Garrett, my dog, feast on chicken-flavored celery and carrots, and discarded the rest of the additions.

This produced about 40 oz of broth.

The soup:

I used canned chickpeas (2 cans) but you could also use dry, but you'll have the extra step of having to boil and cook the chickpeas first before moving on.

Filling up my food processor with several heaping spoonfuls of chickpeas, more fresh herbs (this time: lemon balm, lemon thyme, and mint, just the leaves now), and broth, I blended the mixture until creamy smooth.  Continue until all the chickpeas have been processed.  I poured my batches (since I have a small processor) into a soup kettle as I went, then stirred together, taste tested, and added more salt and pepper and herbs as needed.  I also processed a small handful of baby carrots with the last batch of herbs).

Next, I fired up a saute pan to pre-heat it to quite hot while I sliced some zucchini (I then sliced each ring into quarters).  I added some olive oil to the hot pan, and gently sauted the zucchini.  I removed the skin and bones from my reserved chicken, and coarsely shredded it with my fingers into the saute pan (it's already cooked, but I'm a bit paranoid). Saute until the zucchini is texturally al dente (I like mine still a bit firm).  Then dump the mixture, olive oil and all, into the rest of the soup.  To this I added about a cupful of baby sweet peas.

Stir, taste, add seasoning as needed, stir and taste again.  When you get it "just right" to taste, you're done!  Refrigerate to let the flavors mingle for a few hours (you can eat right away if needed).  I also froze a quart for later, double-bagged in zip-lock style baggies.

I always try to freeze a bag or two of soup or stew when we make it.  Chances are good that we'll grow tired of eating soup before it's all gone, and frozen soup makes for a quick thaw or microwavable lunch down the road.  Freezing some right away is better than waiting to see if you'll eat it all during the week and then freezing the leftovers, because you greatly reduce your chance of freezing bacteria and preserving the fresh taste.


You can serve chilled for a refreshing treat on a hot afternoon, or microwave or put in a separate pot just the servings you require to heat.  If you heat and re-heat the whole batch, you'll loose the "al dente" texture of the vegetables and the herbs will fade and discolor, and you'll end up with mushy leftovers that have lost all the original charm of the dish.

Garnish with a sprig of mint or your desired herb, or float some thin lemon slices to serve.  Since I used lemon balm and lemon thyme, my soup retained the citrus vibe of the original recipe, but you could use a splash of lemon juice if you did not have lemony herbs available.

Also note, the original recipe would be classified as a "dairy" dish (it had Parmesan cheese) where as my adaptation would be a "meat" dish (chicken, but no dairy), which would be important if you're keeping Kosher.  For a vegetarian alternative, simply omit chicken from your stock and add more flavorful vegetables such as peppers for full-bodied vegetable broth.


P.S. In case you're wondering where that cool cobalt hued hemp-wrapped wine bottle flower vase in the first photo came from... Yes!  I made that too!

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