Thursday, December 24, 2015

Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa

A very special someone recently got me the Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California cookbook, and we are a match made in heaven. Epitomizing "grain-and-vegetable-centric, globally inspired cuisine", enveloped in New-American rustic style, the pages are filled with beautiful shots of verdant, vibrant dishes, the majority plant-based.  After flipping furiously through each page, I settled on a recipe that featured winter's small seasonal bounty: a kale, carrot and chickpea stew. I know, shocker! I only have like 10 recipe variations for this.

However, this Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa is a testament to the auspiciousness of making one dish you like with small ingredient tweaks many, many times—one day you will come across one that is infinitely better than all the rest! And I found that in this recipe. Even said special someone, who didn't like kale and chickpeas until this year, agreed it was the best soup he'd ever had.

Here's why it works. The spices are rich and subtle at the same time, focused Middle Eastern flavors that give flair without overpowering.  (Though its the spice combination that make the stew magical, I have a sneaking suspicion fennel seed is the secret ingredient. I bought it for the first time to make this soup, and I'm infatuated with its perennial aromatics.)

Second, a slightly thickened texture, created by pureeing a portion chickpeas with soup broth in advance, avoid the thin liquid of some soups while totally amplify the chickpea flavor. What a genius idea for a thickening agent!

Lastly, the spiced yogurt is to die for. I am a fanatic about any yogurt-based condiment, and this one is herb and lemon tinged to perfection. As Chef Travis Lett points out, the cooling qualities of yogurt are the ideal counterpart to a spicy soup, and these two blend in flawless harmony.

Now, while I wax poetic about this chickpea stew, I have to admit that I didn't even make the recipe in its truest form—I took lots of short-cuts! For example, I used canned chickpeas instead dried, marinated ones the recipe called for, used ground spices instead of whole, and bought vegetable stock and harissa instead of prepping Lett's homemade recipes. That being said, the stew still came out above and beyond any of my soups to-date. The recipe is easy enough for a weekday soup, but definitely suited to impress a crowd—serve a big pot surrounded by little bowls of spiced yogurt and Harissa, a visually enticing presentation that looks as inviting as it tastes.

Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa (adapted from Gjelina)
Serves 4

For the chickpea stew:

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained (or 1 lb dry: see directions below*)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin**
  • 1 tsp coriander**
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds**, ground or chopped finely
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into half-moons
  • 8 small red potatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut into 2-inch-wide strips
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • harissa, to serve. (Can be found in specialty food stores/International aisle of Whole Foods. And If you live in NYC, Taim makes a great one!)

For the spiced yogurt:

  • 1/4 tsp coriander**
  • 1/4 tsp cumin**
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon


  1. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, warm oil until hot but not smoking. Add the carrots, onion, and garlic; season with salt and pepper; cook until vegetables begin to soften and brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, fennel, paprika, turmeric, thyme, bay leaf and potatoes. Cook until quite fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the tomato paste, scraping the bottom of the pot frequently so that it does not burn, and cook until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by more than half, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add vegetable stock, discard bay leaf, return to a simmer.
  4. In a blender (or large bowl and immersion blender), combine 1 cup of the soup with 2 cups chickpeas. Puree until smooth. Return pureed beans to the soup pot. Add kale and remaining chickpeas, stir gently. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. (This prevents the yogurt from curdling.)
  5. Make the spiced yogurt. In a food processor, blender or by immersion blender, combine spices, yogurt, and herbs. Process until yogurt is tinted green. Add olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice and pulse until incorporated. Taste and season with salt. Stir in the water, a little bit at a time, stopping when the yogurt is still thick, but thin enough to drizzle from a spoon.
  6. Before serving, spike soup with vinegar. Serve with a dollop of spiced yogurt and drizzle of harissa.

*To make dried chickpeas: Add 1 yellow onion (quartered), 1 carrot (peeled and quartered), 2 garlic cloves (smashed), 1 bay leaf, and 4 fresh thyme sprigs to ingredient list. In a large bowl, cover chickpeas with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Drain the chickpeas and rinse with cool water.
In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, combine the chickpeas, onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Add fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until chickpeas are tender but still hold their shape, about 45 minutes.  Discard bay leaf. Cool chickpeas in the cooking liquid and then drain, discarding the liquid. Set aside.

**Original recipe calls for whole seeds, toasted in a frying pan over medium heat for 3 minutes, cooled, then ground into powder with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

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