This recipe makes me giggle. Literally. Me, giggling in the kitchen, as Paulo walks in, knowing that I am yet again up to something. In this case, it is a soup that is so simple to make that the lovely result is almost inexplicable. That is the first reason it makes me happy, but there are others. To begin, this soup, properly called lablabi, is traditional street food in Tunisia, having been eaten for centuries, or longer, by the people of that region. Those of you who know me know that I have a penchant for food with history. For food that has fueled people throughout time and kept the next generations coming. In eating this soup you are sharing some small thing with them.
In every culture in the world that makes bread, you will find recipes for using the leftover remnants. Whether it be bread pudding or panzanella or stuffing or croutons, or a hundred others, this soup is a North African take on that tradition. Those of you who know me also know that I don’t like waste. Food, all food, should be appreciated and not tossed away. To turn those remnants into something not only edible but fantastic illustrates the creativity of cooks who had nearly nothing. Even today, and here I am giggling again, this big pot of soup can be made for only a few dollars. Though no longer a poor student, I still value this inexpense greatly.
There are so many recipes for lablabi out there, all following the same general principle, though each with its own idiosyncrasies. I originally based mine on a recipe obtained from Anissa Helou. One major difference between mine and hers, I use canned chickpeas while she starts with dried. Canned? I know. I know I know. Right now the purists out there are shocked. Some are collapsing to the floor and throwing a flailing leg tantrum, while others are staring at their computer screens in coldly mute disapproval. How could you? they are thinking. Canned? Canned? We thought you, like we, cherished freshly made food. Yeah, okay. Let me explain. The first time I made lablabi, I started with dried chickpeas. Soaked them overnight with a little baking soda, simmered them for hours the next day. And you know what? The resulting peas were not one little, teeny bit better than the canned chickpeas. Most canned beans are mushy, and I don’t use them. But those devilish little canned chickpeas retain their creamy resilience. And, if you need further convincing, rather than having to plan this soup a day ahead of time, you can make it on the spur of the moment in fewer than fifteen minutes. Yes, that is correct. Fewer than fifteen minutes. A wonderfully fragrant soup in the amount of time it takes to boil water (or, in this case, broth). In the amount of time it takes to sit in a drive-through.
So there. I make no apologies. I prepare this soup often with a squeaky clean conscience. And you will, as well, if you give it a try. If you have bread on hand, then be authentic and use it. I do whenever possible. But I often have leftover rice, and love using that instead as the anchoring base for the peas and broth. And if I’ve run out of harissa, I have not the slightest problem substituting Sriracha. Any which way, this soup is fantastic.
Tunisian Chickpea Soup
2-14 oz cans chickpeas, drained
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T harissa
1 T cumin
juice of 1 lemon
Bring the chickpeas, broth, and garlic to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes. Stir in the oil, harissa, cumin, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Turn off the heat. To serve, tear bread into bite-sized pieces and scatter in the bottoms of individual bowls. Top with the soup, drizzle with a little more harissa if desired, and serve.