Tunisian spiced tomato chickpea soup

A hearty tomato and chickpea soup flavored with aromatic spices brings comfort to a rainy evening.

A Restless Palate
A hearty and simple soup of chickpeas and tomatoes with spices to give it a Tunisian flavor.

For better or worse, having a dog forces me to get out into weather I may not otherwise go out in. Today I’m grateful for that.

Did you know that Vancouver has a magic hour on rainy days? It does.

The catch is you gotta be willing to venture out in it.

It happens about an hour after sunset. It’s still light enough to make out the outline of the downtown skyline and the neighborhoods’ West Vancouver. Yet, it’s dark enough that heavy sheets of rain blur out the lights. Each little light, a TV screen of thousands of private stories, all muted like lighted candles in a smoky bar. Then there are the layers of sound – the lapping of the waves, car tires speeding through wet pavement, and the staccato of each drop smacking the hood of my raincoat. The darkness provides privacy and the orchestra a soundtrack. It feels comforting and peaceful. I love the rain.

There’s the smell of salt, sea, and the vestige of hot oil coming from the local pub. And of course, there’s the added bonus of the smell of wet dog. I’m not in a rush to get home even though I’m wet to my toes. I just want to take it all in. After all, I’m just a visitor here.

Strangely, this darkness, the smell of rain and ocean and the feel of wet sand under my boots make me crave soup – a thick and hearty soup made of tomatoes, garlic, and chickpeas.

Soup can be simple or really involved. I’m going to keep it simple tonight. Start with big ol’ chunks of onion, several minced garlic cloves cooked in olive oil until translucent. Then add the spices, stirred for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add diced tomatoes and their juice, some stock, and cooked chickpeas. Dinner is served. Pass the bread!

Tunisian Spiced Tomato Chickpea Soup
This recipe was inspired by a workshop with food writer Tara O'Brady and similar to a stew that will be included in her forthcoming "Seven Spoons" cookbook (April 2015).

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion chopped into 1-inch chucks
3 garlic cloves minced
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon each red chili flakes and cinnamon
1 28 fl.oz can (796 ml) of diced tomatoes
1-1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas (approx. 1 can drained and rinsed)
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (water with a little salt will work, too)
2 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
1 star anise
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional garnishes are chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, plain Greek yogurt or sour cream, chopped almonds, raisins or diced dates.

1. In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil, onions and garlic. Cook until the onions become translucent.

2. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili flakes, and cinnamon. Stir until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds.

3. Add the tomatoes and juice, drained chickpeas, stock, honey or brown sugar, and the star anise.

4. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Notes: The amounts can be quite flexible so make it your own. Bulk it up by adding chopped carrots, potatoes or turnips. Like it spicier? Add some more heat. Do you have preserved lemon in your fridge? Add 1 tablespoon of diced preserved lemon peel (pith removed) to the soup to add another dimension.

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