The night before: put the chickpeas to soak in plenty of cold water.
Next morning: drain the chickpeas, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Drain again. Cover with fresh water by a depth of about 2.5 cm/1 in head and again bring to the boil. Lower the heat, film the surface with olive oil and cook at a bare simmer for 1 hour. Check periodically to make sure the chickpeas are always beneath the surface, adding more water as necessary. Bite into one to see if they are cooked. The pea should have some crunch, but be quite mealy. If still too hard, continue to simmer, tasting every 10 minutes until done to your satisfaction. Drain and reserve.
Dried chickpeas can be rehydrated more quickly by bringing them to a fast boil for 5 minutes in masses of water, then leaving them to stand for 1 hour. However, the overnight soaking delivers better results.
Joint the chicken, discarding wing-tips, parson’s nose and excess skin. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Peel the ginger. Put the saffron to soak in half a cup of hot water. Blanch, peel, deseed and chop the tomatoes, if using fresh.
Brown the chicken pieces, skin side down, in a little sunflower oil and reserve.
In a large saucepan, fry the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
Add all the chicken pieces save the breasts and pour over the stock, vinegar and 1.1 litres/2 pt of water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and skim. Poach the chicken for 10 minutes or until just resilient when pressed. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a chopping board.
Add the lentils and tomatoes to the stock and simmer for 20 minutes, then add the rice and continue to bubble gently until both the lentils and rice are just cooked. Stir in the chickpeas.
Cut the meat from the chicken pieces. Slice each breast into 4 pieces and put all the chicken flesh into the pot together with the saffron and its soaking water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Grate the ginger. Destalk and coarsely chop the coriander and parsley leaves. Juice the lemon.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ginger, coriander, parsley, lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of olive oil.
Serve in large soup bowls. Put extra-virgin olive oil on the table for people to add more if they wish. Offer warm halved pitta breads from a cloth-lined basket at the table if you wish.
© 1995 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.