The cooking liquid of chickpeas, unlike that of most other beans, is so good-tasting that it makes the basis of a decent soup. Season the beans and their stock as they cook - with garlic, herbs, and some aromatic vegetables, for example - and you have the basis of a great soup. Puree some of the cooked chickpeas, then stir them back into the soup, and it becomes sublimely, even deceptively, creamy.
Although this is a wonderful vegetarian soup on its own, I can't resist turning it into a full meal, either by including leftovers - like bits of cooked chicken, beef, pork, or lamb - or by cooking something specially for the soup, like pan-grilled sausage, shrimp, or more vegetables. Croutons made with olive oil are also good here.
Probably the most obvious question about this recipe is, "Will it work with canned chickpeas?" And the answer is, yes, of course - within limits. The liquid in which most canned chickpeas are packed is not the light, flavorful broth that results from simmering chickpeas at home, but some foreign substance whose flavor is mysterious at best. Canned chickpeas are best rinsed before using, and can then be combined with water or, better still, chicken or vegetable stock before simmering with the other seasonings.
Like any bean, chickpeas can be cooked without soaking. It's equally true, however, that they will cook somewhat more quickly if they are soaked six to twelve hours beforehand. Soaked or not, cooking time for beans is somewhat unpredictable, depending largely on how much moisture they have lost during storage (older beans, being drier, require longer cooking times). Generally speaking, soaked chickpeas will take about 1 1/2 hours to become tender; unsoaked ones will take about 30 minutes longer. Cooking is marginally hastened by holding off on salt until the beans are fairly tender; other seasonings can be cooked with the beans from the beginning.
- 1 1/2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight in water to cover if time allows (see below for variation with canned chickpeas)
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in slices
- 3 sprigs rosemary or thyme
- 1 medium to large carrot, peeled and cut in small dice
- 1 celery stalk, peeled and cut in small dice
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in small dice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound sausage, grilled or broiled and cut into thin slices (optional)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
1. Combine the chickpeas, sliced garlic, and herbs in a large saucepan with fresh water to cover by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for at least 1 hour, or until fairly tender. Add additional water if necessary, and skim any foam that arises to the top of the pot.
2. Scoop out the herbs and add the carrot, celery, onion, salt, and pepper to the pot. Continue to cook until the chickpeas and vegetables are soft, at least another 20 minutes. Remove about half the chickpeas and vegetables and carefully puree in a blender with enough of the water to allow the machine to do its work. Return the puree to the soup and stir; reheat with the minced garlic, adding additional water if the mixture is too thick.
3. Stir in the sausage and cook a few minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve, drizzled with the olive oil.
If using canned chickpeas: Rinse 4 cups chickpeas and combine with 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and the vegetables as in step 1 above. Cook until the vegetables are tender, then proceed as above.