Chickpea and Lentil Soup

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A soup that lends itself to using what’s in the storercupboard and the fridge. You’ll find how to adapt this Italian soup to make a middle-eastern chickpea and lentil soup at the end of the recipe. Use any type of lentils from Puy to the black Beluga lentil to the brown POD lentils from Castelluccio di Norcia.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
100g pancetta or bacon, cut into chunks
1 carrot, peeled and chopped finely
1 rib of celery, sliced finely
1 medium potato, cubed (no need to peel)
1400ml vegetable or chicken stock
400g tinned chickpeas, rinsed
100g Puy lentils
Leaves from 3 stems of thyme
A handful of baby spinach (optional)
50g Parmesan, freshly grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slim slices toasted sourdough bread
Extra virgin olive oil to serve

Instructions

1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pan. Add the red onion, pancetta or bacon, carrot, celery and potato. Cook over a gentle to medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft, stirring to stop them sticking from time to time. (See our note* below.)

3. Add the stock, chickpeas, lentils and thyme leaves. Bring the mixture to the boil, skim any white froth and turn the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook the soup for 20-25 minutes or until the lentils are cooked but still holding their shape. Add more water and heat through if the soup is too thick.

4. Add the baby spinach if using and cook for a minute until the spinach has wilted. Season the soup to taste with salt (if you used stock you may not need much) and freshly ground black pepper. Serve in bowls with a slice of toasted bread floating on top, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

RECIPE NOTES AND TIPS

To make a middle-eastern chickpea and lentil soup recipe fry a stick of cinnamon or a bulb of star anise and a half a red or green chilli for a minute or two after you fry the red onion and add a few chopped stems of coriander (or a teaspoon of whole coriander or cumin seeds). Continue the recipe as above but omit the Parmesan at the end. Instead garnish the soup with chopped coriander.

This recipe appears to have a lot of liquid (1400ml) but you’ll find that the lentils will soak it up.

Use 2 cloves of sliced garlic instead of the red onion and cook them for a just a minute before you add the carrot, celery and potato.

Use green, brown, yellow, red or black (Beluga) lentils instead of Puy lentils and switch the chickpeas for tinned or pre-cooked butter beans or cannellini beans.

* Why do you have to cook the vegetables for ten minutes?
Onions (even when they are chopped finely) take at least ten minutes to soften (any recipe that tells you to cook them for less is fibbing). And raw onions will never cook completely during the rest of the cooking time so they will always be a little tough in the finished dish. A soup that is made from a collection of simple ingredients depends on a strong flavour base of vegetables that have been fried first. If the onions are not cooked through, even after ten minutes, add a few teaspoons of cold water, put a lid on the pan, and let them steam to soften. At least after frying them first you will have bedded in the flavour.

How to use prepare dried chickpeas instead of tinned
To use dried chickpeas instead of the already-cooked tinned variety, you can prepare them for cooking in a few ways. Soak them overnight to tenderise them; or boil them in lots of water for a few minutes, then leave them to cool in the water for an hour before using to speed up the cooking time; or do what we do and cook them without pre-soaking in advance separately until they are soft but holding their shape: check them from time to time, older beans take longer to cook. For this recipe you need to cook them in advance and add them in the soup as if they were tinned chickpeas.

Why do you drain and rinse tinned chickpeas?
Some people don’t do this, instead using the liquid in the tin as part of the liquid for the soup. We’re not terribly keen on the flavour of it and it can cloud the soup. Use it instead to make aquafaba, a vegan meringue.

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