Yesterday, I went running on the bike path for the first time since December, when the first huge storm arrived, followed by many, many others. The path was 98% clear, with just a few snowy patches, easily navigated.
Today, it is all covered up again, the snow falling lightly but steadily. Welcome to spring.
The only way I ever get through March is by pretending that it's spring, and occasionally, that works, and most of the time, it doesn't. We were all fooled, this past week, with those temps in the 60s and that especially fat full moon sitting so low in the sky. But this week's forecast is for snow and rain and "unseasonable" chill. There is a fire in my wood stove as I write this and wool socks on my feet.
The upside--it's still soup season. That, at least, is something to be grateful for. As I have mentioned before, I think Deborah Madison is a soup genius, and this soup is an old favorite of mine, temporarily forgotten. I remembered it again because I just bought my very first pressure cooker, and I put it together over the weekend. I've always been scared of pressure cookers--that blowing the house up thing--but I came back from India determined to learn how to make good dal, and everyone I know who makes good dal in India uses a pressure cooker. Deborah Madison herself talks about the excellent texture of the beans she cooks for certain soups, not to mention their speedy cooking.
So, I bought a pressure cooker, and the first (and only, so far) thing I cooked was a pound of chickpeas. My pressure cooker report is this. On the one hand, the soaked beans cooked in 10 minutes, which is amazing. On the other, the knob on top that's supposed to jiggle didn't jiggle, so I was nervous the whole time they were cooking. I think it will take a bit of practice before I can use the pressure cooker without hovering (at a small distance), but I can see its good qualities already.
So, I had a pound of cooked chickpeas, and I saw this recipe for Chickpea Soup with Crisp Croutons up at The Wednesday Chef, and while it looked tempting, it also had meat in it, and rather than take the meat out, I remembered that I had a similar already vegetarian recipe in hand, one I'd enjoyed in the past. Plus, there was the spinach to break up the bland beigeness of pureed garbanzos, and it just so happened that I made it to the Saturday farmer's market with an hour to spare, and the nice young woman who sells fresh spinach (grown in Hadley, even in deep winter!) had some left and I bought a bag.
This soup is very simple--chickpeas, onions, garlic, thyme and oregano, spinach. You use the cooking and/or soaking water as stock, and you puree it partially, leaving some chickpeas whole, for texture. I decided to add some smoked paprika this time and did not regret it. I added it toward the end, but next time, I'll probably saute it with the onions and garlic.
I don't usually recommend monochromatic meals--except for the one entirely pink dinner I made some years ago. (Really--salmon, applesauce and mashed potatoes made from red-red potatoes that turn a lovely shade of pink when cooked and mashed. An odd combination, perhaps, but even if it hadn't tasted good (which it did), it would have been worth it for the fact of an entirely pink meal alone.) And it is true that our dinner last night did end up being a bit on the beige side. Still, when the beige food consists of chickpea soup, 8 grain bread from the Hungry Ghost and butterscotch pudding from a David Lebovitz recipe, it's hard to begrudge the color too much.
Deborah Madison strongly recommends NOT using canned chickpeas for this, and I second that. Even if you don't have a pressure cooker, it just means a bit of advance planning for soaking and cooking the chickpeas. Once they're soft, the rest of the soup comes together pretty quickly. Also, definitely hang on to the extra soaking/cooking liquid. This soup tends to get thick, and it's nice to have something on hand to thin it out with.
So, spring is here and not here. This is our challenge for the rest of March. At least there is soup to warm us as we await what is not here yet but must be soon. Enjoy.
Chickpea and Spinach Soup with Bread Crumbs
Adapted from Vegetarian Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen
2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked
1 carrot, peeled
1 head of garlic, sliced crosswise in half
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Handful of parsley sprigs, tied together with string (You can skip the string, but then you will have to pick limp pieces of soggy parsley out of the stock individually.)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4-5 Tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
2 teaspoon dried oregano, not Mexican
Good pinch of dried thyme or 1 fresh thyme sprig
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)
Big bunch of spinach, stems removed and leaves washed
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
1 cup coarse bread crumbs, moistened with 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
Good fruity olive oil for garnish
1. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a pot with the rest of the ingredients and 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the chickpeas are tender but hold their shape. They shouldn't get as soft as canned chickpeas. (This can be done a day or two ahead of time.) Season with a teaspoon of salt and set aside. If you're inclined to, pinch the skins off the chickpeas and discard them.
2. Heat the oil in a second soup pot. Add the onions, oregano, thyme, smoked paprika (if using) and a few pinches of salt. Cook over medium-low heat until softened, about 15 minutes, occasionally giving them a stir. Add the garlic toward the end.
3. Using a strainer, lift the cooked chickpeas into the pot with the onions and discard the rest of the aromatics. Strain the liquid and add 6 cups, setting the rest aside for the moment. Add another teaspoon of salt, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Puree 2 cups of the chickpeas and return them to the pot. If the soup seems too thick, thin it with any remaining liquid. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
4. Wilt the spinach in a skillet in the water clinging to its leaves, then chop and add to the chickpeas. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then taste again and add lemon juice to bring up the flavor. Crisp the bread crumbs in the skillet. Ladle the soup into soup plates, scatter bread crumbs over each serving, drizzle with a little additional oil and serve.
Makes about 2 quarts.