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Lablabi (Middle Eastern Spicy Chickpea Stew)
2 pounds dry chickpeas
Salted water for soaking
12 cups filtered water
Fine sea salt
2 small onions, peeled and left whole
12 to 15 peppercorns, tied in a small piece of cheesecloth or placed in a teaball
2 fresh bay leaves, twisted along their spines to crack them slightly
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 to 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 chile Japones (dry hot chile)
5 to 6 fat cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 pinch fine sea salt
8 scallions, whites and about 3 inches of light green, finely sliced
4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, for garnish (I use Trader Joe’s packages because they are moist, but you could use oil-packed, drained)
Harissa, for garnish
Rinsed salt-packed or vinegar-packed capers, for garnish
Moroccan-style preserved lemon wedges, diced, with or without pulp, for garnish
Fresh lemon wedges, for garnish
Baguettes for serving
1. The night before, pick over the chickpeas and rinse in several changes of water. Add filtered water mixed with salt (you should be able to taste the salt) to more than cover (about 2 1/2 inches works). Cover and let sit overnight.
2. The next morning, drain chickpeas. In a large pot, combine chickpeas, 12 cups filtered water, onions, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Salt the water so you can taste the salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until tender, 1 to 2 hours. Keep a tea kettle full of hot water nearby to top off the pot if the water level falls below the beans. It’s okay if the beans are soupy when done.
3. While beans are simmering, toast cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Empty into a mortar and pestle and pound to a coarse powder. Scrape this powder into a dish and set aside. Toast the whole chile until darkened and soft. Then, if you are a wimp like me, slice off the stem end and, wearing rubber gloves, empty out the seeds. If you prefer heat, keep intact.
4. Scrape the mashed garlic into the mortar, add 2 teaspoons of the spice mix and a pinch of sea salt, and pound to a chunky paste. Scrape this out to a small dish, add the scallions to the mortar, and pound them too. Stir together with the garlic paste. Save remaining spice mix for later use.
5. Take a heavy skillet, place it over medium low heat, and heat the oil. When hot, add the chile and toss and stir a second or three, then scrape in the garlic-scallion paste. Sizzle this mixture until fragrant and beginning to lose its bright color. Sniff appreciatively to avoid scorching the spices.
6. You can pull out the chile at this point, or leave it in. Scrape about half of the oil and spice mixture into the waiting pot of chickpeas and return to a simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, topping with more boiling water (about 2 to 3 cups or 2 to 3 inches). Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Juice the lemons, strain the juice, and add to the pot. Simmer another minute or two.
7. Slice baguette into 3-inch slices and cut crosswise. Toast lightly in oven. Place a chunk of baguette in the bottom of each serving bowl, top with a ladleful of chickpeas, broth, and a drizzle of the rest of the spice paste, and hand around. Let each person garnish as he or she pleases.
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