Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

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With a guest over recently, I found myself improvising with some ingredients to bulk up lunch. It was an unplanned creation and hence the results were all the more exciting and satisfying.  I literally threw together some ingredients I already had in the house to make a very comforting and warming soup/vegetarian stew. It took under fifteen minutes from fridge to stove to table and the silence as everyone delved into their bowl with concentration, was deeply reassuring. As they came up for air, the verbal endorsements confirmed this.

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It’s important to be able to whip up a meal in a matter of minutes. We all need an arsenal of these for when we have little energy or inclination to cook but want to be nourished by good home-cooked food. You can’t beat home-made soups – not only do they taste better, but you can also monitor exactly what goes into them.

I always have a range of tinned lentils on standby to use for soups, stews and salads, so for this soup I used a tin of trusty chickpeas. Everything else I had in my pantry (aka pull out cupboard…buy hey we can dream!) or in the fridge. I always have a pack or two of feta in my fridge as it can last unopened for around three months.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 banana shallot (or small white onion), peeled and roughly chopped

2 large red chillies/chilli peppers (not the hot variety), chopped into inch pieces

4 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

1 tsp of sweet paprika

1 tsp vegetable bouillon

200ml boiling water

1 tsp rock salt

pinch of black pepper

200g fresh spinach

100g feta, crumbled

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot, but on a medium/low heat, add the shallot and garlic and gently fry.

2. After a couple of minutes add the chilli/chilli pepper and continue to stir for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue to cook on a medium/low heat until they begin to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes to the pan and stir into the other ingredients.

4. Now add the drained chickpeas, the sweet paprika, vegetable bouillon, salt and the boiling water. Give a good stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

5. Finally add the fresh spinach and place a lid on the pan. After a minute give a good stir and add a little more boiling water if necessary. Taste and season.

6. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a liberal amount of feta.

All these steps will not take more than 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.

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Baba Ganoush – it definitely has a ring to it!

I have to admit that it was initially the name of this wonderfully smokey aubergine (eggplant) dip/appetizer that caught my attention. I know you probably think I’m mad and just another one of those English eccentrics, but seriously saying ‘Baba Ganoush’ out loud has a wonderful ring to it – give it a try and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll want to keep saying it again and again, I promise you it’s rather addictive sounding. Coupled with the smokey undertones of this pureed roasted aubergine with tahini (sesame paste), lemon, garlic and olive oil and you have a perfect little dish. The name itself means ‘father pampered or spoiled’ in other words, it’s a dish that will please and delight and give great joy to those who feast upon it. It will bring smiles, rest assured!

It is common place in Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, all the Arab countries and North Africa, with each region taking their own spin on the  added extra ingredients. For example, in Palestine, yoghurt is often added to the mix, whilst in Lebanon pomegranate juice is sometimes added instead of the tahini and in Iran tomatoes, onion and turmeric is added. Some people like it to add cumin but I find that the perfect dish is one that is not too over complicated with different ingredients. The simplicity of it adds to it’s appeal.

We ate it on a number of occasions this summer in Turkey, cooked outside on an open fire. It tasted delicious and I made a note to myself there and then to share this recipe with you all. My recipe is very similar tasting to the one that I used to buy in those Middle Eastern supper markets around the Edgware Road in London. I acquired a taste for that style of Baba Ganoush, so when I started making my own homemade version the one I wanted to replicate was the one I used to eat in my youth – or perhaps I ought to say  early 20’s!

There is no hard and fast rule to making Baba Ganoush, so experiment and get creative and see which type really works for you. What I will say however, is that if you like it smokey – which is kind of the point of the dish – it is important to really burn the outside of the aubergine. Using tongs I roast them initially over a gas flame on my hob before putting them in the oven for 25 mins to soften them completely. If you don’t have a gas flame, placing them under a high grill so that the skins blacken and burn slightly, will have a similar smokey effect, but don’t forget to turn them regularly if you do this!

Baba Ganoush

Serves 4

3 large aubergine/eggplant

3 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)

juice of one and a half lemons

1 large tsp rock salt (or to taste)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil

1 pinch chilli powder

1 pinch sweet paprika

1 small handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

1. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees. Using tongs hold the aubergine over a gas flame so as to burn and blacken the skin. The more the skin burns the more smokey your Baba Ganoush will be. The skin should be sufficiently burned from between 6-10 minutes.

2. Place the aubergines on a baking tray and place in the oven for 25 minutes or until the aubergine is completely soft.

3. Leave to cool and then peal off the aubergine skin and discard the skin.

4. In a blender add the smoked aubergine flesh, tahini, lemon juice, chilli powder, salt and  half the olive oil and blend to a pulp. Taste and add more lemon juice/tahini/salt if required.

5. Place in a dish and add a pinch of sweet paprika, flat leaf parsley and the remaining olive oil and serve with toasted pitta bread, chapati or middle eastern bread.

It stores well in the fridge for a few days so great to cook in advance.

As you gently singe the skin of the aubergine the lovely smokey smells will come through.

After 25 minutes in the oven the aubergines will be very soft. Leave to cool before peeling off the skin, which should come away really easily. If they are at all hard in places, leave to cook for a further 5 minutes before checking again with a sharp knife. If the knife easily pierces the skin and goes through the aubergine then it is ready.

Into the blender goes the smoked and oven baked flesh of the aubergine, tahini, garlic, pinch of chilli powder, lemon juice, salt and olive oil.

I couldn’t resist a photo of my recent antique find – a c.1860 French steel and rosewood handle herb chopper, with the chopped flat leaf parsley ready to go on the top of the baba ganoush.