The splendor of this soup is its straight, intense flavor, achieved by using simple ingredients and traditional methods. Though the soup is rustic, the methods used are very precise.
“For a good Sifniot chickpea soup, you absolutely need a crunchy yellow onion that squirts when you cut it,” my Greek-born friend Daphne Zepos counsels, after giving me a whole litany of other do’s and don’ts, including the proviso that I use rainwater from a cistern and cook my chickpeas in a clay pot with a small opening at a Greek village communal oven.
Daphne remembers how her mother would write the family name in charcoal on the pot. The village baker would push the pot deep into the cavernous oven so it would heat steadily and maintain its temperature throughout the night. The following day, it would be served for lunch.
Two Greek islands, Sifnos and Paros, vie for fame in producing this splendid soup. The only difference between the recipes is that the Sifniots add orégano. I have given the edge to Paros. The recipe here was given to me by Lefteris Menegos of the Music Dance Group of that island. On Paros a special pot with a very small opening called a skountavlos is used. I use a Chinese sand pot, but any good bean pot can be substituted.
The chickpeas must be cooked with just enough water to cover, along with some very finely grated onions, bay leaves,
Serve with just a squeeze of lemon to bring up the taste. You may also serve a chunk of tangy feta cheese on the side.
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert. Copyright © 2003 by Paula Wolfert. Photographs copyright © by Christopher Hirsheimer. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.