Most of Ornae was in the middle east for the past few months. They returned with memories of spicy tahini and chickpea laden meals, and turned to me to reproduce them. Dutifully I stocked up on turmeric, cumin, cloves, garlic, chickpeas, lemons, and of course, olive oil, the primary ingredients for cooking on the the old spice routes.

My oldest friends tortured me mercilessly for years, because I once complained about the ‘pasty food’ of the middle east. (Don’t try to deny it, you know I’m talking about you!) Well, I’m here to report that I’ve mastered hummus, spicy eggplant, tahini, and that mysterious chunky red stuff served with falafel. I’ve pureed more chickpeas and poured more olive oil in the last month than I had in the prior 40 years. Now I can say with authority, “tastes great, but still pasty”.

I wanted to make something that incorporated the style and flavors of middle eastern street food, but added the more interesting textures of asian cooking. I searched my cookbooks, but found myself in the Goldilocks dilemma, nothing was quite right. Thus was born this recipe, somewhere east of pot roast, west of stir fry, south of goulash, and north of curry.

Chickpea Curry Soup

A stew as much as a soup, this goes well with couscous, israeli salad, and pita. Chickpeas and other dried beans need to soak for 3 hours hot or 8 hours cold, then cook for about two hours. I prefer the hot soak, since I’ve accidentally fermented beans using the cold method.

This doesn’t need meat, it goes vegetarian easily, and is quite yummy made with veg stock. As with most soups and stews, this should never get made the same way twice. Use fresh seasonal vegetables like squash and broccoli, quickly cooked for a crunchy, summery taste. Or try it with split peas cooked almost to mush, with ham and leeks, for a twist on an american classic.

You have to use reasonably fresh, quality curry. The bottle of yellow stuff your roommate left behind in ‘97 just won’t do. Some large grocery chains stock “Pereg Gourmet” packaged spices, their Indian Curry is quite nice. Or ask for curry mixtures in a middle eastern or asian grocer, you’ll probably find the owner happy to make suggestions, and they sell better, fresher, and cheaper spices than chain stores. You’re looking for something containing (approximately) coriander, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, paprika, cloves, and chili peppers. Real purists, you’ve got your favorite mix already, so relax.

Please don’t be scared by all the steps. Most steps are just adding ingredients in stages so everything is nicely cooked but not mushy. If you’ve only one big pot, or a tight stove, or want to prepare ahead, you can do steps 1,2, and 5, set the beans and veg aside, mostly cooked, then carry on at step 3. Its easy to make this with a one hour timer: Do a step, twist on the timer, walk away, come back when it bings.


[Step 1]
1 lb. Dried Chickpeas or other dried beans

[Step 2]
1-2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1-2 quarts fresh water

[Step 3]
2-4 TBS. olive or cooking oil.
3 – 10 dried chili peppers, as desired.
(Optional) 2-3 lbs. of mixed meats or sausage as desired.
3 medium white or yellow onions, sliced thick.
3 – 10 cloves of garlic, as desired, chopped or crushed.

[Step 4]
1-8 teaspoons of Indian Curry powder or paste, as desired.
4 oz. bouquet of parsley and bay leaves.

[Step 5]
2-3 lbs. of mixed fresh sliced or baby carrots, potatoes, leeks, winter squash, turnips or other sturdy vegetables.

[Step 6]
1-2 lbs. of mixed mushrooms, fresh or frozen zucchini, summer squash, peas, okra, broccoli, leftovers, etc.


[1: Rinse and soak the beans…]
…In fresh cold water, picking out stones etc. Add a few quarts of cold water to the washed beans in a large covered pot,
…either the night before, in which case, cover and leave in a cool corner for 8-12 hours.
…or the morning before, in which case, bring to a gentle boil for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit 2-3 hours.
Stir occasionally and add more water if the beans swell up to the waterline.

When you think they’ve soaked enough…
…Eat one of the soaked beans. It should be crisp, but not hard in the center. If the beans are still hard, you might bring them to another boil for a few minutes, then let stand again.

[2: Rinse and cook the beans, a few hours before serving]
If the beans are ready, rinse off the soak water, add enough stock and water to cover the beans by at least an inch, and boil gently for an hour or more, adding stock and water to keep the beans well covered.

[3: Braise meats, an hour or two before serving.]
Heat the oil and chilies in a large skillet or heavy stew pot. Cut the meats into convenient chunks, say 1” square, and sear in the oil and chilies for a few minutes. Add the garlic and onions, reducing the heat to medium. Scrape and stir this gently, try not to break up the chilies.
Or if you’re not bothering with meats, just sauté chilies, garlic, and onions ‘till they soften, then on to 4.

[4: Spices]
If the meats are dry in the skillet, add a little oil or some stock from the bean pot. Add the curry powder to the meats, working it in to coat the pieces. Sauté for a few more minutes.
The parsley bouquet is made from a few large bay leaves and a fist sized clump of whole parsley stems and leaves. Tie them together with a bit of cotton string or wrap them in cheesecloth. Tuck the bouquet in beside the meats. Add enough stock from the bean pot to cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally.

Eat one of the beans. It should be still somewhat crisp, but the starchy, “raw potato” taste should be almost gone.

[5: Add sturdy vegetables…]
…To the beans, and more water or stock to just cover. Simmer until these vegetables are almost done.

[6: Assemble and thicken]
You may want to fish out the chilies now, depending upon the family’s fondness for the spicy bits. They’ll be harder to find later. If you want to thicken the broth, reserve three cups of chickpeas and stock to cover.
Combine the meats, chickpeas, and additional vegetables in the larger pot and continue simmering.
To thicken the broth, use a blender, food processor, mill, or strainer to puree the reserved chickpeas and stock, then return it to the pot and work it in.

[7: Cook as needed…]
…to finish the vegetables, remove the bouquet and serve. Feed the bouquet to someone who likes parsley, it’s yummy too. Parsley, Stephanie?

Copyright 2004, Ornae. All rights reserved.