Saturday, March 2, 2013

The soup

I didn’t want to complain about the weather. Not again. But I can’t help it when it’s so incredibly cold outside. I used to think I enjoyed the cold weather but now I believe I’ve had enough. I can’t stand it anymore. It’s minus degrees Celsius, it’s snowing every other day making it difficult to walk around the city and, I slipped.and fell.on my mobile phone. Which is kind of funny really but damn it, I might have broken it and what would I do then? Huh?

I know, I complain too much, but I can’t help it. If I’m not free to complain in this little space of mine where am I supposed to let off steam? Well, since I started, let me say one more thing that’s been on my mind. I have never mentioned this before, but I once thought that everyone liked Greece with its beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery, with its delicious food and open-hearted people, but I realized that’s not necessarily true, and these last couple of years, with the economic crisis, things have changed completely.

I have been living in the Netherlands for more than five years now and I have noticed a gradual shift in some people’s view of my country. I see people reacting in a negative way whenever I say I’m from Greece, people are more than willing to point out everything that’s wrong with my country, making snide remarks that are meant to be offensive rather than constructive. They conceal their resentment behind humor, making nasty comments and then laughing about it.

I’m so tired of hearing it. It’s hurtful and unfair, and we Greeks have become the easy target for anyone who wants to blame someone else for their own misfortune. I’m sick of listening to malicious comments and ironic remarks that totally disrespect me and my people. I’m on the verge of saying something really bad to the next person who insinuates anything in my presence, and I’m really not the kind of person who likes doing that.

Of course, to avoid any kind of misunderstanding, not all Dutch people are like that, no. I’m talking about the ignorant and uncultivated few who have come down with the disease called xenophobia caused by the crisis and their own feeble minds, but they’re enough of them out there to upset me and spoil my mood.

Anyway, enough with my ramblings and little outburst, which I’m certain have managed to overshadow this soup. So let’s focus on food. This soup has become my winter solace. My way of battling through the rough, cold days that linger even though March has arrived. A soup that reminds me of home even though it’s not a Greek recipe but an Italian one.

I love legumes and especially chickpeas. I usually cook them in a tomato sauce because that’s the way my boyfriend likes them, but I prefer them “white” as we say in Greece, meaning in a sauce made from the chickpea liquid, olive oil and some lemon juice. This recipe, which is very close to the way I usually cook chickpeas, is from Polpo, which S gave to me as a birthday present this past November. The first time I tried it, I followed it to the letter but found it to be a little bland and lacking in depth of flavor. So the next time I made it, I added my magic ingredients, parmesan rind, a few garlic cloves, a couple of dried bay leaves and some fennel fronds that did the trick marvelously. That’s the version I’ve been making ever since.

It is a soup rich with flavor, with an interesting texture since half the amount of it is blended, with a strong umami taste and a delicate flavor of fennel and leek. So if you’re desperately looking to warm yourself up and you’re craving something seriously delicious, do try this soup. I highly recommend it.

Chickpea Soup with Fennel and Leek
Adapted from Polpo

Fennel is a vegetable that I love and use often. I realize that not many people enjoy its aniseed flavor so let me reassure you by saying that its presence in the soup is discreet, not at all overpowering and it doesn’t mask the flavor of the rest of the ingredients.

The addition of parmesan rind may sound strange to some of you and I totally get it but, trust me, it gives a wonderful flavor to the soup; don’t hesitate to use it.

In Greece, we eat this type of soups as main meals; I suggest you do the same. Serve it with lots of crusty bread, feta and some anchovy fillets on the side.

Yield: 6-8 servings

500 g dried chickpeas
1 tsp baking soda
110 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, mashed
1 large leek (about 200 g), cut into small pieces
1 large fennel bulb (about 300 g), cut into small pieces
1½ liter* chicken or vegetable stock (or 1½ liter water and 2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes)
Parmesan rinds (from a large piece)
2-3 dried bay leaves
¼ tsp boukovo or dried chilli flakes
Black pepper, freshly ground
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed, plus extra for serving
Fennel fronds, for serving

* The level of stock/water should be about 3 cm above the chickpeas and not more than that otherwise the soup will be too runny. Keep in mind that you may need less or more liquid so don’t add it all at once but check how much is needed.

Special equipment: colander, immersion or regular blender or food processor

The night before, put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl, add the baking soda and 2 liters of water, stir with a spoon and leave the chickpeas to soak overnight. They need 12-14 hours of soaking.

The next day, empty the chickpeas into a colander and rinse them well under cold running water. Place them in a large pot and add 2 liters of tap water. Bring to the boil over high heat. You will notice that once the water starts to boil, white foam will rise up to the surface of the water. Remove the foam with a large spoon and drain the chickpeas in a colander.

In the same pot, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 2-3 minutes until they soften. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute and then add the leek and fennel and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the chickpeas and stir them around so they get covered with the olive oil and add the stock, or water and stock cubes (making sure it is almost 3 cm above the chickpeas and not less or more than that), the parmesan rinds, bay leaves and boukovo or chilli flakes. Stir everything around and bring to the boil. Then turn heat down to low, put on the lid and allow to simmer for about 1 hour or until the chickpeas are tender and done. Not all chickpeas are the same so you need to keep an eye on them and check them after the first 30 minutes of cooking. You want them to be tender in the end but not mushy.
Have a taste and add salt if necessary, followed by a little freshly ground black pepper.

Using a slotted spoon, remove a quarter of the chickpeas and vegetables from the pot and place them in a bowl. Remove and discard the parmesan rinds and bay leaves from the pot. Using an immersion blender, blend the rest of the soup directly in the pot until you have a smooth and creamy soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer the soup little by little to a food processor or regular blender and process it there until you have a smooth and creamy soup.
Return the whole chickpeas and the vegetables you reserved earlier back to the pot, add the lemon juice and stir well.

Serve the soup hot, garnished with some fennel fronds and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add an extra squeeze of lemon and a little black pepper if you wish.

The following day, the soup will taste even better, as all soups do.


  1. The soup looks delicious.
    I was in Greece last year (Athens and Kefalonia) and anyone who wants to be xenophobic is missing out. The food was amazing and the people so friendly and welcoming. Every place I stayed at I felt like my family was adopted by the people running the hotel/villa/ etc. And olive oil.....I finally get what the fuss is about. I could have drunk the stuff straight!

  2. Hi Magda, I know exactly what you're talking about, Dutch weather can be so grey, rainy, cold and fluctuant. That's one of the things I don't miss while studying abroad. But hang in there for a while, because I've experienced really sunny weeks in March (they were followed by grey and rainy days of course, but still). And I'm sorry to hear there are so many people giving you such a hard time about Greece and the crisis, I can imagine this must make you feel very frustrated/sad. I hope this (and the weather) will get a bit better soon.

    PS Soup looks delicious! But actually all your recipes do.

  3. Magda - we moved to Arizona because we got so tired of all the cold weather and endless gray, sun-less days. We feel for you in The Netherlands... And I am sorry for you that there are people who are unkind about your homeland. Yours is a stunningly beautiful country, and one populated with the most kind and generous people. Thanks for this soup recipe - I can't wait to give it a go. ~ David

  4. Anonymous — it's nice to hear you had a great time in Greece. Kefalonia is such a beautiful island. Yes! Greek olive oil is the best :) Thanks!

    Lara — that was the only comment with your name.

    martetatin — hi Marte. The weather is something I can't get used to, unfortunately. I'm waiting for the sunny days of March! There will always be people who will have something bad to say, I guess I'll have to get used to that as well. Thank you for your comment and I'm happy you like the soup!

    David — you're very sweet, thank you :)

  5. Dear Magda,

    I am sorry you have to deal with this; just let it slide off your raincoat. This soup looks and sounds wonderful, unlike anything we cook in Lebanon with chickpeas!
    Cheer up. Nt worth it.

  6. Oooh this looks terribly good! Must make soon!

  7. Magda....Delicious soup and lovely pictures!....I love chickpeas and fennel....a must try for me is this soup because looks so velvety and yummy!......Our winter here is -40 C in January...days are short...but we still enjoy it!!....and cheer up!!....don't listen what people are come from a wonderful country, full of history, philosophy, art and good food!!.......I'm glad that you like my version of Galactoboureko...we love it!!.......Abrazotes, Marcela

  8. I am sorry to hear about the grief you're copping from certain people. They should really learn to distinguish the slightly more abstract notion of 'Greece as a country' from 'Greece - its people'. And the more abstract forces such as recession and economy from every Greek person's individual story and the soul of a nation. I can't quite put my finger on it, I have moved away from the Netherlands over 10 years ago, but it is like the Dutch are critical in an overly non-constructive way, which is a pity.
    Anyhow, we're here for the food! Love your food, love your blog and love your rants...

  9. Why don´t you just smile and say,
    well, we Greek taxpayers are trying not to be too angry with having to bail out your Dutch banks from their disastrous securitisation deals. You see, your banks made private business deals and assumed risk for which they got paid extravagant amounts of fees. Seems to me that if the deal went belly up, well, it went belly up...but no, we Greek taxpayers have to pay off the structured debt so your banks' bondholders can get paid and your banks don´t have to assume the responsability or the risk of having screwed up on the lending side or the issuing side.
    Nice soup by the way...

  10. First: I am Dutch but have lived most of my adult life in other countries. (I'm now in the US.) It is amazing how uncouth and rude people can be when criticizing other cultures and people. Sadly, the Dutch are no different and I'm sorry you are made to feel bad. Just know that the people who are doing it have no class, no cultural sensitivity and lack common courtesy.

    And now the recipe: I love soups, and reading your recipe I realize I have everything in the fridge and cupboard to make it, even the fennel. Will soak the chickpeas tonight and make the soup tomorrow.

    You say you are not a professional photographer, but your pictures are amazing!

  11. Fennel and leeks might well be THE soup! Delicious!

  12. tasteofbeirut — it may not be worth it but it still bothers me...
    I'm glad you like the soup Joumana!

    Banana Wonder — I hope you enjoy it!

    foodtravelandwine — -40C?? Wow, i don't know what i would do!! Thank you Marcela!

    madelief — thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I'm glad you like my food. And my rants :)

    Anonymous — if only I could put it as eloquently as you just did. :) Thank you!

    Miss Footloose — fortunately it's just a small group of people who are rude and insensitive. Many Dutch people are very kind and generous and make me feel welcome in their country. I appreciate them so much.
    Thank you for your supportive comment and I'm so happy you like the soup. I hope you get the chance to make it!

    Pola — thanks!

  13. Hi Magda,

    I am sorry there are people out there who are so insensitive and rude. May be it will make you feel better if I tell you that I am planning a very special trip to your beautiful country :-)It's not set in stone yet, but I would love to do that! And no fears of a deep recession are going to scare me away!


  14. Beautiful, beautiful soup my dear. Any country, Greece, that has such lovely people all over the world who are making wonderful foods such as yours should be considered a treasure.

  15. I know what you mean: am so tired of hearing Italians, Germans and Americans make inappropriate jokes or snide remarks about each other. I love all three countries, my blood flows in all three of them and I am over generalizations and ignorance. Unfortunately there is only so much you can do. My way of making a change is trying to be as careful as possible not to fall into the stereotype trap, trying not to make generalized remarks about cultures or habits that are foreign to me. Unfortunately we all do it, and often without meaning to be harmful or even without noticing. If we all make an individual effort, we can perhaps change the world one step at a time.
    Regarding fennel, I have been using it more to cook with lately and love the idea of using it in a soup. This is another recipe of yours I am trying for sure.

  16. Yuliya — oh that's great! I hope you have a wonderful time if you go after all!

    Teresa — thank you!!

    Nuts about food — yes, what you say is true. We all make assumptions and generalize from time to time without putting much thought into it or even realizing it. I wish too that things will change. I hope you enjoy the soup!

  17. Magda, I am so sorry to hear that you have experienced such negativity from people. I have never been to Greece but it is in my top 3 countries I want to visit next and I just love the culture, the people and the food. I love this beautiful soup and look forward to trying it out when it becomes colder here in Australia. I have bookmarked a lot of your recipes come to think of it!

  18. Hi,
    I just discovered your blog and am thinking about making this soup for dinner soon; however, I only have canned chickpeas, do you know if/how they work as a substitute? Do I just use 500g drained chickpeas?
    Greetings from Germanny!

    1. Hello there! Sorry for the late reply. I have never made this soup with canned chickpeas and I frankly don't think they would work. The purpose is to give flavor to the chickpeas by cooking them with all the delicious and fresh ingredients. Canned chickpeas carry a specific flavor that I personally don't like. You can give it a try though. I suppose you'll need about 1 kg of drained chickpeas.

  19. I made the soup yesterday but didn't read your reply, so I just used about 500g chickpeas from a can, drained and rinsed. I totally forgot about the weight difference dry vs soaked! I really like the soup, but will definitely try again with dried chickpeas. Thank you for sharing the recipe!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm sure you will love it with the dried chickpeas.

    2. I just wanted to stop by again and tell you that the soup has become a family favourite with us :) Thank you for this recipe!

    3. Oh I'm so glad to hear that! :)

  20. I totally love Greece and the food, people and everything about it. Will be going back soon for 3 weeks and can't wait and I find you food blog wonderfully delicious keep it up, well done Magda