chickpea soup with harissa and croutons (MLLA #19)

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summary: recipe for chickpea soup with harissa; chickpeas are tender using soaking technique in “Mediterranean Street Food” by Anissa Helou; brief review of this wonderful book; information about My Legume Love Affair; submission for YeastSpotting (click on image to see larger views and more photos)

My Legume Love Affair #19: Vegetarian (no eggs)

chickpea soup with harissa Lablabla… lablablablabla… lablablablablabla!! :-)

Nope. We just can’t stop. And once you’ve lablabbed, I bet you won’t either.

WHAT am I droning on about? I’ll tell you: lablabi. Or at least that’s the non-English label on the Chickpea Soup recipe in Anissa Helou’s really wonderful book “Mediterranean Street Food“. (She is the reason we remembered to have fuhl and will continue to remember to have fuhl…).

With Middle Eastern food on the mind, the other day, T made his best harissa yet. Really fabulous. Clearly we neeeeeeeded to try the lablabi (chickpea soup) on page 8.

This warming soup, poured over bread and garnished with a knob of harissa and a pinch of cumin, is a winter specialty in Tunisia.
– Anissa Helou, Mediterranean Street Food, p.8

But after our nightmare with rock-hard chickpeas in chole (chickpea curry) this week, we knew we didn’t want to have soup made with chickpea flavoured rocks.

Anissa Helou suggests adding a bit of baking soda to the soaking water for the beans and to rinse the beans well before cooking. But Sally and Martin Stone caution against using baking soda in the soaking water, unless the water is particularly hard. They wrote:

Baking soda added to soaking water destroys nutrients and affects flavor and texture (beans become mushy). Don’t do it. (Add baking soda only in extremely hard water and then a scant ⅛ teaspoon per cup of beans.)

– Sally and Martin Stone, The Brilliant Bean, p.27

Baking soda in the soaking water might make the beans mushy? Aha!! We decided to try Anissa Helou’s method. Our water isn’t particularly hard but we WANT our chickpeas to be softer! Nutrients schmutrients!

So two nights ago, after washing the chickpeas well, we threw a bit of baking soda into their soaking water and left them to see what they would do overnight. Yesterday morning, we drained and rinsed away all the soaking water, added new water and cooked the chickpeas. For only 30 minutes. And they were ready.

Well!! Excuse me while I do an about-face!!

Contrary to what the Stones say, the chickpeas have a lovely sweet flavour. But more betterer (:-)), they are exactly the right consistency. Whoohoooo!!!

I know. We’ve probably lost some of the nutrients. But at least we didn’t have to hear crunching noises as we ate this last batch of chickpeas.

Yes, indeed. If your chickpeas WON’T get soft no matter how many hours they are cooked, use a little baking soda in the soaking water!! Now I’m sorry that we relegated all of those insanely hard fava beans to the compost! I bet they would have come out beautifully soft (but not too soft) if we had pre-soaked them with baking soda.

The lablabi recipe calls for day-old bread (oops, no day old bread either) so we drizzled olive oil on freshly made sandwich-type bread and put it in the toaster oven til it was crispy. The recipe also calls for harissa, cumin and raw garlic. The harissa recipe in the book doesn’t have any cumin in it – only caraway seeds. Our harissa contains, caraway, coriander AND cumin seeds as well as lots of raw garlic. So we decided to omit the cumin from the soup.

chickpea soup with harissa The other change we made was to fry the garlic rather than put it in raw. We thought it would add a toasty sweetness.

The verdict?

This soup is amazing! It was perfect for the cold snowy day!!

Here’s our take on Anissa Helou’s chickpea soup with harissa:

Chickpea Soup with Harissa and Croutons
based on the recipe for Lablabi in “Mediterranean Street Food” by Anissa Helou

  • ½ c dried chickpeas
  • ⅛ tsp (pinch) baking soda
  • water
  • good shot olive oil
  • firm bread, sliced or chopped in cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp harissa
  • sea salt, to taste
  • fresh lemon juice, to taste
  1. On the evening before you are going to make the soup, sort (to remove stones) and wash the chickpeas well. Place them in a bowl large enough for the beans to triple. Add plenty of cold water and a pinch of baking soda – the beans will expand – add a little more water than you think is necessary. Cover the bowl and leave to soak overnight.
  2. The next morning, remove any beans that are floating. Drain and rinse the beans. Discard the soaking water. Put the drained beans in a big pot and cover with fresh cold water. DO NOT ADD SALT. Bring to a boil. Immediately turn down to a low simmer. Cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until beans are tender (If you didn’t add baking soda to the soaking water, it will take at least 4 times as long to cook the beans). The outer husks will still be firm when the insides are soft. They are done when the insides of the beans are soft.
  3. Drizzle some of the olive oil over the bread and put it in the toaster oven to bake until it is crispy and golden. Set aside.
  4. In a skillet, heat some more olive oil. Sauté garlic til it is just turning gold. Set aside.
  5. When the beans are tender, add harissa, garlic and seasalt. The salt stops the beans from getting much softer…. Simmer the soup a few more minutes.
  6. Divide the bread evenly into the bottoms of shallow soup bowls. Ladle the soup overtop and put a spoonful of harissa in the center.

Serve immediately with a wedge of lemon and extra harissa.


» According to Sally and Martin Stone in “The Brilliant Bean“, most dried beans double in volume and weight after being soaked and cooked. Soybeans and chickpeas can triple.

“As a general rule, 1 cup (8oz) of dried beans increases to 2 to 2½ c (1 to 1¼ lb) of cooked beans. One cup of dried beans is usually enough to serve four as a side dish.”

… (1 lb = 453.6 gm)

Canned beans can be used as well. Drain and rinse the beans first. The liquid in canned beans is often a bit stinky, murky, and oversalted.

» The bread does soak up the broth quite quickly and become quite soft; using stale and/or dense bread is advisable.

» Next time we’ll cube the bread and scatter the croutons over the soup just before serving. This way, the croutons will stay crispy. A few wedges of pita bread on the side might be nice as well and perhaps a scattering of parsley leaves on top of the soup, or a sprig of fresh parsley to chew on afterwards. This is a major garlic hit!!


What a great way to use up day-old bread! This is THE MOST FABULOUS SOUP!!

Note to self: Check harissa stash; may need more….

My Legume Love Affair #19: Vegetarian (no eggs) - 31January2010My Legume Love Affair (MLLA)
Susan (The Well Seasoned Cook) created this event to celebrate and expand our legume repertoire. She wrote:

Legumes are […] chock full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, they are one of the natural wonders of the plant kingdom and a staple where meat, fish or dairy are scarce.

This month, EC (Simple Indian Food) is hosting and has simply chosen “vegetarian” as the theme. She wrote:

Only vegetarian recipes are accepted since this is a vegetarian blog (No eggs please- Cheese acceptable). […] Recipes from archives can be accepted ONLY if updated and reposted as current.

The deadline for posting is 31 January 2010.

And yes, there are two prizes being offered!! Random Drawings from the MLLA#19 post will be taken and the prizes will be

  • The Joy of Cooking 2010 Calendar.
  • Hurst Bean Box – A case of six bags of the winner’s choice of Hurst Bean products, suitable for every diet, donated by Hurst Bean. (Due to shipping restrictions, this prize can only be awarded if the winner is a U.S. resident.)

For complete details on how to participate in My Legume Love Affair, please read the following:


Yeastspotting - every Friday ( image)

Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following:


Mediterranean Street Food
by Anissa Helou

This is the next best thing to actually travelling from port to port on the Mediterranean! The descriptions of the various markets are lovely. We can almost smell and hear the thrilling jumble of voices, laughter, paper rustling, bicycles clanking and cars honking. And of course, we can taste it all with the aid of the recipes. We’re only half way through the book and already several more recipes bookmarked to make.

My only complaints are that 1.) there aren’t photos or drawings of some of the foods and preparations (I’m thinking specifically of cheese triangles); 2.) the index doesn’t include “haminados eggs” or “mahlep” – two things that are mentioned throughout the book. Sure, it might be like asking “what are devilled eggs and seasoned salt?” here but I really do think that neither “haminados” or “mahlep” are particularly standard terms all over the world. (We have found the entries for these items) 3.) Some of the bread recipes give amounts of time to let the dough rise but don’t say what the air temperature is, rather than saying to allow the dough to rise til double in volume.

Not really much to complain about, is it?

[A]s the day draws to an end, a horde of people descends on the square. They have come for the evening’s entertainment: ambulant cooks who every night set up their trestle tables, benches, and makeshift kitchens in a huge rectangular formation and street entertainers who amuse the crowds with snake charming, storytelling, dancing, magic healing, and other diversions.
– Anissa Helou, Mediterranean Street Food, p.6


edit: Please see my other post for MLLA#19: fuhl without favas (MLLA #19)

2nd edit: The MLLA#19 roundup has been posted. Do take a look.

3rd edit, 23 February 2010: We finished reading “Mediterranean Street Food” and I have just posted another review.

This entry was posted in crossblogging, food & drink, posts with recipes, PPN; YeastSpotting; MLLA; T&C, spicy, vegetables, vegetarian on by .

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3 responses to “chickpea soup with harissa and croutons (MLLA #19)

  1. anissa

    am so glad you enjoyed the soup. it was one of my staples when i was writing the book and testing the recipes. must make it again. and definitely baking soda in the soaking water, otherwise, as you say, it’ll take forever for the chickpeas to soften. hope you enjoy whatever other recipes you’ll be trying.

    We certainly are, Anissa. We really can’t thank you enough for this look into many dishes we had no idea about. (We have a new favourite spice mix: Za’tar). Thank you once again for sharing your recipes AND for dropping in here. I’m honoured!! -Elizabeth

  2. Susan

    This soup rocks! I make it often with cumin, but will try it with caraway. I am more than intrigued – entirely different flavor. : }

    It’s excellent, isn’t it, Susan? And do try it with cumin, caraway and coriander seed. It’s delicious! -Elizabeth

  3. Baking Soda

    Baking Soda!! I will definitely try that in the near future since I have no luck soaking beans the “right” way (crunchy white beans anyone? crunchy lentils?) I will try the soup as well, sounds like something I like (not specifically the husband but he will get there eventually… he already likes my hummus… )

    Considering your nickname, you pretty much HAVE to try it, don’t you? It works fabulously. I hope both you and your husband like this. (It’s really good.) -E


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