Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Sourdough

This soup is the evening equivalent of my morning mug of earl grey tea.  Peter can tell you how grumpy I get when we are either 1) out of black tea or 2) out of milk (to put in said tea).  It’s not pretty.  A similar thing happened this week with the chickpea and tomato soup with sourdough.  First we were out of sourdough bread (this one’s on Peter) and then we were out of oregano (this one’s on me).  And I stubbornly refused to make the soup any other way.

In the last few weeks there have been plenty of chickpea soup versions, but I realize now that the only truly key ingredients are as follows: chickpeas, tomatoes, sourdough bread, good broth, oregano, onion-family vegetable, root-family vegetable.  Not once have I had all the ingredients called for in the original recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, but who cares when I’m willing to make a soup that takes two days?  Now don’t panic, the only thing that takes an extra day is cooking the chickpeas, but if you use chickpeas from a can then the whole thing takes under an hour.  Closer to half an hour if you don’t get distracted by cute animal photos (can’t. help. myself.).

Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Sourdough
1-2 cups dried chickpeas (or two small cans of cooked chickpeas)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil for the pot
1-2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
4 or more cups of good broth (I use homemade chicken broth)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Sourdough bread cubes, stale or fresh, as long as it was good to begin with

Your first thought may be that the previous list of ingredients was rather inexact, but this is because you will most likely not have the exact quantities lying around or have soup preferences of your own.  For example, I get picky about the amount of chickpeas compared to other ingredients–it doesn’t make sense, but there you go.

 To cook the chickpeas:

Soak the chickpeas for 4-8 hours (or overnight) covered with water to at least two inches above the top of the beans.  I have started soaking my beans in the fridge so I don’t have to worry about forgetting about them.  The beans will expand quite a bit during this soaking period.  Then, rinse the beans and cover with new water in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 1-2 hours, or until the beans are nice and soft.  It is rather difficult to overcook chickpeas, so I often don’t keep a very close eye on them.

To make the soup:

In a soup pot, saute the onion in the olive oil until softened a bit.  Add the carrots and celery and cook until they are slightly soft too.  Add the tomatoes, herbs, sugar, cooked chickpeas, and broth.  You will probably also want to add some water to make the soup of a soupy consistency.  I like this soup closer to stew-like, but remember that the sourdough will absorb some liquid at the end.  Bring the soup to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or so.  Either while serving or during the last few minutes of cooking, add the sourdough bread cubes and mix them into the soup.

Optional garnishes: drizzle of olive oil, dollop of yogurt or sour cream, minced green onions or chives.


Bulgur Pilaf with Red Peppers and Raisins

This year it got a little out of hand with the cookbooks. I made a list, checked it twice, and then before I knew it there were 8 new additions to the cookbook library.  And yes, it is becoming a library because it crossed my mind the other day whether I should organize by frequency of use, last name, or title.  Normally I would find such an increase in cooking inspiration rather overwhelming, but I have made it my mission to take it one book at a time.  First on the list is Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty To say that I enjoy this book is an understatement; I have spent many a night ogling the glossy pictures and daydreaming about whether I have all the ingredients to make a certain dish.  So far I have not followed a single recipe faithfully, and yet no matter what I put in the chickpea sourdough soup, it takes all my self-control not to go back for another bowl.  Taking pictures of the chickpea sourdough soup is on my to-do list this week (I’ve already made the soup a handful of times in the last two months), but to tide you over, here is an adaptation of the recipe for Itamar’s bulgur pilaf from Plenty.  If you haven’t cooked with bulgur before, it’s very easy, somewhere between rice and couscous in that you can boil it or steam it, or as often happens when I’m not paying enough attention, a little of both.

Bulgur Pilaf with Red Peppers and Raisins
(Enough for at least 4 servings)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, cut into thin slices
2 large red bell peppers, cut into thin slices
1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2/3 cups raisins
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 3/4 cups water (or a little more if your lid doesn’t fit tightly)
Salt and pepper
Minced green onions for garnish

Begin by sauteing the onion and pepper in the olive oil in a sturdy pot.  After 15 minutes or so the onion and pepper should be nice and soft.  Add the crushed tomatoes, sugar, coriander seeds, and raisins and cook for another 2 minutes or so.  Add the bulgur, water, and salt and pepper.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn off the heat, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and set the timer for 20 minutes.  Once the time is up, fluff the pilaf with a fork and serve with the green onions sprinkled on top or mixed in.  Easy peasy.


A Very Swedish Smorgasbord

The last few weeks have been a blur.  First there was a conference in Long Beach where I saw many astronomy friends, and then there was a week of telescope observing outside San Jose.  Each one was exhausting, but in strangely different ways.  Somehow conferences just sneak up on you, and by the last day you can do little more than sit on the couch and stare at something.  Observing on the other hand knocks you flat, like flying to the other side of the world and expecting to immediately get used to a new time-zone, but without the help of sunlight.  Now that I’m back home I’d like to post a few more Christmas pictures of the Smorgasbord my sister, Peter, and I (mostly) cooked.  After that, I promise, we’ll move on to the new year.

First we have the most important section: pickles.  And in case the pickled herring wasn’t enough fish for you, there’s also mustard-crusted salmon.  Oh, and my Mom’s new favorite salad with pears and pecans (very good!).

There were also a number of carbohydrates, including two kinds of potatoes (one with fish…) and some Swedish bread.  I can also officially say that I have made my first ham.  As someone who isn’t too fond of the traditional uber-pink ham, I was pleasantly surprised and might even say I would make it again.  Although how the “Swedish” ham my Mom was given varies from a normal ham is beyond me.

Happy New Years!

Christmas in Blizzard Country

Meet Chester.  He has a bad habit of lying on your lap with his belly in the air and then sliding off your lap head-first.  This adds an appreciated element of comedy on those days when the weather decides it wants to snow 12 inches and leaving the house is too intimidating. Strangely is wasn’t the snow that kept us from leaving town at the end of the week.  Not only did we catch a stomach bug two days before our flight back to the West Coast, but due to a series of unfortunate events, we ended up spending the night in Newark Airport.  Note to self: only plan to sleep in airports where seats aren’t separated by armrests and CNN isn’t left on ALL NIGHT.  While I am now fully up to date on such interesting topics as a sailing race around the world historically only won by French middle-aged men with children, a booming horse racing economy in some Chinese city where jockeys are famous like basketball players, and the history of the man-made Dubai harbor, I would have sacrificed all of it for another hour of sleep.

At least the tree looked nice.  It was a bit shorter than usual at only 9 feet or so, but that’s what you get when you don’t drag the tree from the middle of the forest yourself.  This year my mom had the brilliant idea that she would have her children cook all the Swedish food for the Christmas eve meal while she decorated the house.  I must admit, she was a lot more relaxed than usual, although we certainly weren’t.  Sunday night was a series of two kinds of cookie, four pies, and two pickles.  Monday was the ham (the first one I’ve ever liked), sausages, salmon, two potato dishes, and some other things that clearly weren’t as important because now I can’t remember them.  Luckily the herring came pre-pickled.

While most of us thought that was enough cooking and were content to eat leftovers on Christmas day, my sister decided to start a batch of cinnamon sticky rolls before opening presents (an event that lasts an eternity at my parents house no matter how many presents there are, and where an eternity is conveniently quantized into units of how long it takes a yeast dough to rise).  The cinnamon sticky rolls were delicious. And I’ve been dreaming up less sweet and perhaps more buttery versions ever since.