Chickpea and Swiss Chard Soup

You stumble onto things. It can be a fortunate fall.

When I married into an Italian family, I had never eaten a chickpea. If you were raised in the Saginaw Valley, you ate navy beans. End of story. 

Next chapter: marriage, a new family, a new cuisine, new foods, new life. On Christmas Eve my wife’s family ate chickpea soup. These were chickpeas from a can (always Progresso), cooked with whole garlic cloves, rosemary, salt and pepper and olive oil. When we sat down to eat, a pasta dump had also occurred, enough tubetti (my mother-in-law called them bucanotti) to thicken and fortify the soup. It was bliss.

That’s ancient history–forty some years ago.  For some reason it didn’t dawn on me–for 25 or 30 years!–to wonder why we ate chickpea soup only on Christmas eve. I started fooling around, getting into chickpea cooking. And most recently this soup came about–chickpea with Swiss chard. Like most soups, it’s a combination of leftovers. In this case, planned leftovers.

Lots of steps. Take your time. Soup for four. You need:

Dried chickpeas (cup your hands–three handfuls)
Two bunches of chard
Medium onion
Olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper   

Get with the chicks.  Canned or dried? I like dried chickpeas for soup. I measure them by the handful and soak the chickpeas overnight, rinsing them once. They swell, they come to life. 

Next morning rinse them again and toss them in a deep pan, deep enough to be sure the surface of the water is just above the level of the peas. Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat 2-3 hours. Add a little water as needed. The chickpeas will soften and get a little ragged as they cast off some of the husk. That’s good. They’ll make a thick soup. When you start to see husk, if the chicks are soft, they’re done.  (See image above.)

Set them aside for future reference.  You’re thinking, That’s a lot of time. Yes, but if you’re hanging around the house, the chickpeas are doing their thing and you’re doing yours. 

Now the chard.  The fresh chard I’ve been buying is already washed. But watch it. They can be sandy and dirty.  The steps below take 15 minutes.

Cut the ends off the stems and discard. Then cut the stems away from the leaves. Wash the leaves and stems, cutting the rinsed stems and setting them aside to be sliced. 

Chop the leaves and toss them in already fast boiling water. Add the sliced up stems. While the water comes back to a boil, 3-5 minutes, dice a few cloves of garlic into a 2-3 tablespoon puddle of olive oil in a frying pan. Warm the garlic on low heat.

When the water comes back up to a boil (3-5 minutes), swirl the chard leaves a few times to get their attention, then drain everything in a colander. Run cold water over the drained leaves to shock the chard and cool it.  Total time in the water, 3-5 minutes.The shocked chard should look brilliant green

At this point, you can lay the boiled and shocked chard aside for future reference, or chop them some more and dump them in a frying pan with the gently warmed and lightly sauteed garlic.

In the pan, with the oil and lightly sauteed garlic, the chopped chard will be wet. That’s good. You’ll want to cook down the water content. On low-medium heat, cook the chard uncovered, turning them occasionally. Nothing wrong with adding a little olive oil. After 25 minutes, the water should be pretty much cooked off.  The chard should be tender.  Add salt to taste.

Have lunch. Eat some chard. Don’t eat them all.  Save half a pan of the cooked chard for your soup. Leftovers, right?

Now, the soup. Chop and saute the onion in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add your chickpeas, enough to fill your pan no more than half full. Warm the onion and chickpeas on low heat in the pan until you want to hear the cooking sound. 

Chop your leftover chard a little more and add it to the chickpeas and onion.  Cover everything with water, up to an inch or so above the surface of the contents. 

Cook on low heat for an hour or two. You may need a little more salt. I’m inclined to add a little more oil, too. I like to taste the oil when I sit down to eat the soup. Oil makes it voluptuous. This is overstatement. But it’s not.

Holy cow, it’s good. I’ve also made this soup with chopped spinach. Close but not quite as thick. Different. Lacking chard, use a box of frozen spinach. 

Note: leftover chickpeas are great with tuna. Here’s a link to that recipe.

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