Claypot Chickpea Soup

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    8

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

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, a pinch of salt, and plenty of olive oil. The pot is sealed with a ribbon of flour, water, and oil to avoid any evaporation, then placed in a slow oven. The chickpeas cook to a silken tenderness that turns them almost buttery on the tongue. Amazingly, their skins become tender and taut. The liquid will thicken slightly as the starch of the chickpeas is slowly released, creating a soup with an earthy flavor.

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.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Salt
  • 3 imported bay leaves
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and grated in a food processor
  • Flour, water, and oil dough for sealing the pot
  • freshly ground pepper
  • Lemon quarters

Method

  1. Soak the chickpeas in plenty of cold water with the baking soda and a pinch of salt for about 12 hours.
  2. Drain the chickpeas and rinse thoroughly. Place in a clay or sand pot, add the bay leaves, olive oil, a pinch of salt, the grated onion, and enough water to cover the peas by 1 inch, about 6 cups. Seal with a ribbon of flour, water, and a drop of oil. Put the pot in a cold oven, set the heat to 450°F, and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 250°F and continue baking for 3 hours. Discard the bay leaves. (The soup can be prepared 1 day ahead up to this point. Let it cool, then refrigerate?)
  3. To serve, gently reheat the soup to simmering. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve the soup in individual soup bowls and dribble each with a few teaspoons additional olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.