Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chick-Pea, Chicken, and Rice Soup from Aleppo

My sister and her family visited over the holidays and we did a lot of cooking together. She made this delicious soup from the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.

This soup has been a favorite since I first had it years ago in a restaurant off Hamra Street in Ras Beirut that specialized in cuisine from Aleppo. The cinnamon marks it as from the region of the Lebanese-Syrian-South Turkish littoral, where flavors that we associate with sweet cakes and cookies, like cinnamon, clove, and allspice, are used very successfully in soups and stews. Don't let the simplicity of this deceive you--it's an astonishingly good dish for cold days and nights.

Ingredients:
  • ¾ cup dried chick-peas, soaked overnight **
  • 2 quarts clear white chicken stock with the breast meat of the cooked chicken diced and reserved
  • ½ cup long-grain [brown] rice **
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • [sea] salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a covered heavy kettle or stockpot, simmer the drained chick-peas in the chicken stock for an hour or more, until they are thoroughly cooked but not falling apart. Add the rice and continue cooking until the rice is tender but not bursting, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved chicken and continue cooking just long enough to heat it through. Taste the stock and adjust seasoning if necessary. Cover and keep warm.

In a small skillet, gently sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until soft but not browned--about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon and cumin and cook 5 minutes longer or until the aroma of the spices begins to rise. Stir the mixture into the soup, return to a simmer, taste, adding salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Although this recipe is from Syria, it reminds me very much of some dishes I encountered when I first moved to Turkey in the early 1990s. My husband and I lived in Antalya, on the southern Mediterranean coast, and I had a great friend who was also an American married to a Turk. She and I would share lots of Turkish recipes and she had one that I thought most unusual, but extremely delicious--it used cinnamon as the flavoring in a meat/rice dish. I'll try to track that recipe down, or one like it, and post it here as well.

** I like to soak both my rice and chick-peas overnight. Soak in water with a couple of tablespoons of liquid whey added to aide in the lactic acid fermentation. Read an article by Sally Fallon at the Weston A. Price Foundation for a good explanation of this process, or check out her wonderful cookbook, packed with nutritional information as well as great recipes: Nourishing Traditions.

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