Regular readers of this column know how much I love beans, but I admit to a blind spot when it comes to chickpeas.

While I do have some repertoire favorites such as Portuguese seafood and garbanzo stew, you say chickpea and I think hummus. This is not surprising because hummus is an Arabic word for chickpeas and, by one count, a quarter of U.S. households ravenously consume what is known in the Arabic world as hummus bi tahini (a spiced chickpea and sesame paste purée) that we have abbreviated to the name of the first ingredient.

Sumac-Spiced Chickpea & Fennel Purée
Sumac-Spiced Chickpea & Fennel Purée

While I’m dissing a perfectly serviceable foodstuff, I will also take a dig at canned chickpeas, swimming in their bland aquafaba.

On the other hand, chickpeas are one of the best plant-based sources of protein, minerals, amino acids and fiber.

There is usually no excuse for not reconstituting and cooking dried beans, except for the fact that chickpeas, even pre-soaked, take twice as long to cook as nearly any other bean. The advantage is that you get to add flavor that commercial processing leaves out.

Add a couple of smashed cloves of garlic and bay leaves to a long-simmering pot of beans and you’re ahead of the game. A quartered onion and roughly chopped carrots and/or celery ups the ante. Choosing your dried bean source (you know how I feel about Rancho Gordo) is to your advantage, as the “fresher” the dried beans (i.e., the closer they are to having once been fresh), the less time they will take to cook and the truer they will be to their authentic taste and texture.

I recently stumbled upon the description of dango, an Arabian (Omani) chickpea recipe seasoned with sweet paprika, Aleppo pepper, tart ground sumac, lots of lime juice — and a surprisingly healthy dollop of butter — that stopped me dead in my tracks, as I am now more than ever in accord with Frank Herbert, who opined in Dune: “He who controls the spice controls the universe.” It seemed the perfect corrective to the late-winter blahs still visited on us as spring approaches.

While dango is more of a stew, I opted for purée, adding fresh fennel and bolstering the spice mix with other notes from the Middle Eastern palette. You could serve it as a stew, or an in-between soup, by puréeing a cup or two of the soup solids as a thickener. The butter is optional for vegans and vegetarians but I encourage at least a finishing pat when serving.

As with most vegetarian soups, a couple of tablespoons of diluted miso at the end bolsters the umami factor. The white chickpea miso from South River Miso Co. (available at Marbled Meats in Philipstown) is tailor-made for this recipe, although a sweet white miso will do. 

Case closed.

Sumac-Spiced Chickpea & Fennel Purée

Serves 6

Sumac spice blend, consisting of:
  tablespoons ground sumac berries
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin seed
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 4 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 to 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium bulb fennel, chopped (reserve fronds for garnish)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil, more for serving
  • 3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • ½ cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 5 limes; reserve 1 teaspoon zest for garnish)
  • 3 tablespoons white miso (South River white chickpea miso is worth seeking out)
  • Whole wheat flatbreads for serving

Garnish: ground sumac, fennel fronds and/or lime zest

1. Heat butter or oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add fennel and cook for another 5 minutes.

2. Add spice blend and cook to “sweat” all for 1 to 2 minutes. Add chickpeas and stir to combine. Add the broth and lime juice, bring to a light boil, reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. In a measuring cup, dilute the miso with 2 to 3 tablespoons of soup stock. Reserve. Purée the remaining soup, in batches, in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the puréed soup to the Dutch oven, add the lime juice and more stock if it seems too thick. Heat again thoroughly for serving. 

4. When the soup is warmed for serving, stir in the diluted miso. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary and serve. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with an extra drizzle of olive oil (or pat of butter), a dusting of ground sumac and a pinch of lime zest and/or fennel fronds. Serve with oven-warmed whole wheat flatbreads.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Dizney is a designer, art director and unrepentant sensualist. When the Cold Spring resident is not thinking about food, he is foraging for, cooking or eating it. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Food

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