Make Ahead

Lablabi (Tunisian Spicy ChickpeaΒ Stew)

February 28, 2013
1 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 12 hours
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 10 to 12
Author Notes

I first came across Lablabi in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Gil Marks (may he rest in peace) also included a recipe in his book, Olive Trees and Honey. It is not too complicated, can be made with canned or dry chickpeas, and is garnished with a variety of piquant garnishes. The original recipe had you simply add crushed garlic, salt, and spices to the simmering chickpeas, serve it over a chunk of toasted baguette, and allow each diner to garnish as desired. Gil Marks has you saute carrots, celery root and onions. The stew fulfilled all of our family's basic requirements: chickpeas in any form are a favorite; lemony chickpeas, even better. And we always seem to have cured lemons, capers, and garlic on hand. I altered the recipe by sizzling the crushed garlic with spices and scallions and adding the fragrant mixture back into the pot of beans, saving some for a bright garnish. The technique of mashing garlic and salt with the spices to be used in the recipe hails from Jacquelin Higuera McMahon. It seems to round out the flavors. —creamtea

Test Kitchen Notes

Who knew that the humble chickpea could taste so bright and light? Creamtea's Lablabi called to mind the experience of eating pho, in that it consists of a relatively mild base soup that each diner personalizes with different bright, bold garnishes. The good news is that, unlike cooking a beef broth for pho, cooking the chickpea stew is scarcely more complicated than boiling a pot of water. If you like spicy foods as much as I do, consider using a spicier harissa or add a little chili oil for more kick. —nola_t

What You'll Need
  • For the chickpeas
  • 2 pounds dry chickpeas
  • Salted water for soaking
  • 12 cups filtered water
  • 1 pinch Fine sea salt, to taste
  • 2 small onions, peeled and left whole
  • 12 to 15 peppercorns, tied in a small piece of cheesecloth or placed in a teaball
  • 2 fresh bay leaves, twisted along their spines to crack them slightly
  • For the spice paste and final assembly
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 chile Japones (dry hot chile)
  • 5 to 6 fat cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt
  • 8 scallions, whites and about 3 inches of light green, finely sliced
  • 4 tablespoons to 5 olive oil
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 handful Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, for garnish (I use Trader Joe's packages because they are moist, but you could use oil-packed, drained)
  • 1 pinch Harissa, for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon Rinsed salt-packed or vinegar-packed capers, for garnish
  • 10 to 12 preserved lemon wedges, diced, with or without pulp, for garnish
  • 10 to 12 fresh lemon wedges, for garnish
  • Baguettes for serving
  1. The night before, pick over the chickpeas and rinse in several changes of water. Add filtered water mixed with salt (you should be able to taste the salt) to more than cover (about 2 1/2 inches works). Cover and let sit overnight.
  2. The next morning, drain chickpeas. In a large pot, combine chickpeas, 12 cups filtered water, onions, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Salt the water so you can taste the salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until tender, 1 to 2 hours. Keep a tea kettle full of hot water nearby to top off the pot if the water level falls below the beans. It's okay if the beans are soupy when done.
  3. While beans are simmering, toast cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Empty into a mortar and pestle and pound to a coarse powder. Scrape this powder into a dish and set aside. Toast the whole chile until darkened and soft. Slice off the stem end and, wearing rubber gloves, empty out the seeds. If you prefer heat, keep intact.
  4. Scrape the mashed garlic into the mortar, add 2 teaspoons of the spice mix and a pinch of sea salt, and pound to a chunky paste. Scrape this out to a small dish, add the scallions to the mortar, and pound them too. Stir together with the garlic paste. Save remaining spice mix for another use (or, for a slightly more seasoned final dish, you could use the whole amount).
  5. Take a heavy skillet, place it over medium low heat, and heat the oil. When hot, add the chile and toss and stir a second or three, then scrape in the garlic-scallion paste. Sizzle this mixture until fragrant and beginning to lose its bright color. Sniff appreciatively to avoid scorching the spices.
  6. You can pull out the chile at this point, or leave it in. Scrape about half of the oil and spice mixture into the waiting pot of chickpeas and return to a simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, topping with more boiling water (about 2 to 3 cups or 2 to 3 inches). Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Juice the lemons, strain the juice, and add to the pot. Simmer another minute or two.
  7. Slice baguette into 3-inch slices and cut crosswise. Toast lightly in oven. Place a chunk of baguette in the bottom of each serving bowl, top with a ladleful of chickpeas, broth, and a drizzle of the rest of the spice paste, and hand around. Let each person garnish as he or she pleases.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rio Tehama Baraket
    Rio Tehama Baraket
  • LeBec Fin
    LeBec Fin
  • Angela Kramer Brownawell
    Angela Kramer Brownawell
  • Jennifer Oliva
    Jennifer Oliva
  • Jilly Inspired
    Jilly Inspired

38 Reviews

Rio T. November 14, 2019
Hi, just two notes. One: lablabi is Tunisian and not middle eastern. And two: preserved lemons are also Tunisian (check your trader Joe's jar.)

-other than that thanks for sharing.

creamtea November 14, 2019
Hi Rio T. I appreciate your weighing in. Thanks for the correction regarding lablabi and its origins. With regard to cured lemons, however: they are indispensable not only to Tunisian, but also to Moroccan cooking. I cure my own rather than purchasing them,--as I've done for many years, following Paula Wolfert's recipe from her first book, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.
Rio T. November 15, 2019
You are right, perhaps I'm just a bit overzealous about Moroccans getting credit for all things North African... Tunisia has been my home for the last four years and I guess I've become a bit jaded.

You see, even couscous is a North African staple left over from when the Maghreb people ruled these lands. Yet it is often considered Moroccan. However I do realize that this isn't a big deal to most people. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈπŸ˜‰πŸ’œ

I guess I was just all riled up last night...

If you ever want to hear about my adventures in Tunisian fusion cooking I'd be happy to share with you 😊
creamtea November 15, 2019
You make a very good point, one which I hadn't considered. Thank you for the insight into Tunisian cooking. I've corrected the title and updated the recipe. (There are a number of ways to cure a lemon! My friend was taught a different method by her in-laws when she married). Your adventures sound fascinating. I'd for sure be interested in hearing more!
Rio T. November 15, 2019
Thanks for correcting the title and being so friendly about it!πŸ€—πŸ’œ

Send me a PM over messenger (my user name here ought to get you the right result) and I'd be happy to pass on any info or help inspire future posts...
LeBec F. January 16, 2016
ct, easy peasy to find in an indian store. they're supposed to be 'nutty' and this is my first foray into chickpeas (I've always disliked them/found them mealy so I wanted to weight the results in their favor by using the nutty ones.)
LeBec F. January 14, 2016
ha! ct, maybe you already know this, but after I have been scrolling through DOZENS of 52 chickpeas recipes, yours is the ONLY ONE, so far, to include chickpeas that you soak and cook yourself (instead of using canned)! Do you find much difference between the more common beige chickpeas and the rust colored shriveled-looking ones? thx!
creamtea January 15, 2016
I've only used the beige ones! I'll have to look for the rust-colored ones; I've never seen them. If I do, I'll definitely try them; I love chickpeas.
steph December 20, 2015
Where can one purchase preserved lemons? I have access to both Whole Foods & Trader Joe's, but not many specialty food stores. Thanks!
Lindsay-Jean H. December 20, 2015
My Trader Joe's carries them, I'm sure Whole Foods does, too. You can also make a batch yourself:
creamtea January 15, 2016
Hi steph, I make my own, but I have seen them at the supermarket. I bet Whole Foods has them.
verborgenheit December 6, 2015
Hello- just wondering how you would use canned chickpeas- do you just drain them/rinse and then warm them up (wondering how you make the "broth")?
Angela K. November 8, 2014
We are not huge fans of very spicy things; do you think the recipe would be awful without the pepper?
creamtea November 8, 2014
It would be fine without the pepper; it's actually not that spicy: the black peppercorns are only used to season the simmering water, then removed, and the chile is only used to slightly flavor the oil, then tossed.
Angela K. November 8, 2014
Thank you! I am new to being vegan and looking for recipes that I can also share with meat eaters.
Jennifer O. October 11, 2014
What do you do with the whole onions?
creamtea October 11, 2014
In step two, you simmer them whole but peeled, with the chickpeas, water, and seasonings.
Jennifer O. October 12, 2014
Sorry,What I meant to ask is what do you do with them when the dish is done, discard them? Chop them and add them back in? Seems a shame to throw them out...
creamtea October 12, 2014
They are to season the beans during the initial simmering. I sometimes remove and eat them myself, you can keep them in the final pot if you wish. You could certainly cut them in half before the preliminary simmer, then dish them out a little more neatly when the dish is done if you prefer. There are no hard-and-fast rules, it's a simple dish :)
Jennifer O. October 12, 2014
Pearlyoyster March 20, 2014
I have never heard of soaking chickpeas in salted water-- I've always thought that salt too early makes bean skins tough and hard to cook. Ca you do this with all beans or just chickpeas?
creamtea April 2, 2014
Traditionally I believe lablabi is made with chickpeas, but you could certainly try with other types of beans. I think I got the saltwater soaking method from Sunset; I now always soak beans in salted water so they can soak in the seasoning. Seems to improve flavor, and I haven't had any problem with toughening.
Musebe February 18, 2014
How wonderful to see this recipe on Food52. Lablabi is a typical street food in my country, albeit this version is a bit more gourmet I can't wait to try it myself.
creamtea February 27, 2014
Thank you, Musebe! If you try it, let me know what you think!
Jilly I. June 7, 2013
Love this! Chickpeas are a fav of mine!
creamtea June 26, 2013
I hope you try it!
darksideofthespoon April 1, 2013
Soaking the beans tonight! Can't wait to try this tomorrow. YUM.
darksideofthespoon April 3, 2013
This was so great! I served it with a fried egg on top and lots of bread. I forgot about all the garnishes after noticing that my preserved lemons had gone mouldy (what!!) and we were out of sun dried tomates. I was nervous my husband wouldn't like it, but he had rave reviews!
creamtea April 4, 2013
thanks, darksideofthespoon, I'm so pleased you and your husband tried & liked it!
sarabclever March 19, 2013
Making this tonight. I looked in my Claudia Roden to see if she had a version and of course she did but I had always overlooked it. Making your version (more or less, forgot to add the onion and don't have scallion but that's all more than Roden's recipe calls for) and really excited for it--love chickpeas and this seems like such a simple but flavorful way to make them!
creamtea March 20, 2013
Thanks Sara, I hope you like it!
micook March 17, 2013
OK, I'm testing this recipe but find the directions lacking. What are you supposed to do with the spices not used with the garlic? There's more than a teaspoon for sure. Are all these other ingredients -- capers, harissa, preserved lemons -- garnishes? And half the garlic paste is a garnish?
creamtea March 18, 2013
mlcook: thank you for offering to test my recipe! There is more of the toasted spices than you require for this particular recipe; I like to make extra. It can be put in a small jar or ziplock and saved for another use or for next time. (I find it easier to make a little extra in terms of toasting whole spices evenly and to have extra around). The capers, harissa, sun-dried tomatoes and preserved lemons serve as garnish. The rest of the garlic paste can be stirred into the individual bowls (step 7) or could be stirred in at the end--to keep the bright flavor. Each person garnishes as he or she likes with harissa, preserved lemons, capers, fresh lemon wedges to squeeze, and sun-dried tomatoes
TheWimpyVegetarian March 7, 2013
This sounds fantastic! I would love to make it. I've got some chickpeas soaking right now :-)
creamtea March 7, 2013
Thanks! If you do, let me know how you like it! It has become a staple in our house.
TheWimpyVegetarian March 8, 2013
I will!
inpatskitchen February 28, 2013
Ooooh..this sounds so yummy and comforting!!
creamtea February 28, 2013
Thanks, Pat!