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
10 to 12
For the chickpeas
Salted water for soaking
Fine sea salt, to taste
small onions, peeled and left whole
to 15 peppercorns, tied in a small piece of cheesecloth or placed in a teaball
fresh bay leaves, twisted along their spines to crack them slightly
For the spice paste and final assembly
chile Japones (dry hot chile)
to 6 fat cloves garlic, smashed and minced
fine sea salt
scallions, whites and about 3 inches of light green, finely sliced
to 5 olive oil
Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, for garnish (I use Trader Joe's packages because they are moist, but you could use oil-packed, drained)
Harissa, for garnish
Rinsed salt-packed or vinegar-packed capers, for garnish
to 12 Moroccan-style preserved lemon wedges, diced, with or without pulp, for garnish
to 12 fresh lemon wedges, for garnish
Baguettes for serving
In This Recipe
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.