I'm deep in the middle of a streak where I cook primarily from other people's cookbooks. Every now and then it's a groove I fall into, sometimes lasting a few weeks, other times a month or two. There's something creatively energizing, and at the same time, relaxing about following a recipe written by another cook or writer I admire. I like to mix it up a bit by alternating between recipes from new volumes (like the one today), and recipes from older titles (the Sopa Verde from last week). It's a practice that tends to shake out the creative cobwebs for me. So, that's where my head was at when I turned to a stack of books the other night. I was asked to bring a soup for a group of friends getting together for a casual, coastal overnight in beautiful west Marin. There were a number of recipes that were contenders, but a spicy chickpea soup from Yotam Ottolenghi's upcoming cookbook, Plenty More, caught my attention. It features a seductive, red harissa broth fragrant with cumin, coriander, and caraway, and enough chickpeas and bulgur to make it work as a main course. An herb-whipped feta is the crowning dollop. We enjoyed it after an invigorating stroll along the coastline just as surfers were catching the last waves before sunset - I popped off a few snapshots along the way...
That first shot (and the one with the surfers and fishing boat) is looking south toward the Golden Gate - people surf, paddle board, swim, and fish from the shore. The clouds were settling in, and they weren't just coastal fog and mist, we had a few hours of real rain - but none since.
I really like this soup with a finishing squeeze of lemon juice, or a sprinkling or chopped olives. I had it the next day with a poached egg for dinner, with a swirl or arugula pesto (Deborah Madison's Marjoram Sauce would be nice too). Just play around with whatever you have on hand to give a generous pot of soup a few twists for a nice series of meals.
Spicy Chickpea and Bulgur Soup
A few notes - scale back the harissa a bit if you are sensitive to heat (or if your harissa is on the spicy side). Yotam wrote this recipe using bulgur (as you see it below), but because I had cooked farro on hand, I took the liberty of swapping that in, in place of the bulgur. I imagine brown rice could be a welcome substitute too.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, cut into 3/8-inch / 1-cm dice
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3/8-inch / 1-cm dice
4 celery stalks, cut into 3/8-inch / 1-cm dice
2 tablespoons harissa paste
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups / 500 g drained cooked chickpeas (canned are fine)
4-5 cups / 1 liter+ water
3/4 cup / 100 g coarse bulgur wheat
3 teaspoons fine grain salt, or to taste
black pepper, to taste
Creamed feta paste
3 1/2 oz / 100 g feta, broken into large chunks
1/4 cup / 60 g crème fraîche
1 cup / 15 g cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup / 15 g mint leaves
1/8 teaspoon fine grain salt
to serve: mint, cilantro, and/or celery leaves
Put the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until translucent. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery and continue cooking for another 8 minutes. Add the harissa, cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds and cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring well. Gently mix the chickpeas into the vegetable mixture--you don't want them to break down--along with most of the salt and plenty of black pepper. Add most of the water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, rinse the bulgur, put in a small saucepan, and cover generously with cold water. Bring to a boil and immediately remove from the heat. Drain, refresh under cold water, drain again and set aside.
To make the feta paste, put the feta, crème fraîche, cilantro, mint, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a small food processor and blitz for a couple of minutes, until a smooth, creamy paste forms. Keep in the fridge until needed.
Before serving, add the cooked bulgur to the soup and bring to a gentle simmer. Divide the soup among bowls, add a spoonful of feta paste to each bowl, top with some herbs, and serve at once.
Adapted slighty from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Prep time: 10 minutes - Cook time: 30 minutes