During the holy month of Ramadan in North Africa, this silky textured soup is the first dish with which the fast is broken. Although not essential, the flour is to create a sort of starter, which lends it the silkier finish.
Silky chickpea and lamb soup
Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus preparing the starter, and soaking the chickpeas.
Cooking time: 1 1⁄2 hours, plus cooking the chickpeas until tender (optional).
• 2 tbsp rye flour (optional)
• 2 tbsp strong bread flour (optional)
• 350g/12oz lamb shank
• 1⁄4 tsp ground cardamom
• 1⁄4 tsp ground cumin
• 1⁄4 tsp smoked paprika
• 1⁄4 tsp ground coriander
• 1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon
• 700g/1lb 9oz tomatoes
• 20g/3⁄4oz salted butter or smen
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
• 5cm/2in piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
• 2l/70 oz/8 cups good vegetable stock
• A pinch of ground saffron (optional)
• 125g/41⁄2oz/1⁄2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked or 250g/9oz/1 cup tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
• 250g/9oz/11⁄3 cups brown lentils, rinsed
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 wedge of preserved lemon rind rinsed and finely chopped, or zest of half a lemon
• 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves, plus extra for sprinkling
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• A few pitted dates, to serve
• 1 lemon, quartered, to squeeze
• Warm Arabic bread, to serve
1. If you are using the starter, which will give a thicker, smoother soup, early in the morning of the first day, put 10g/1⁄4oz of the rye flour and 10g/1⁄4oz of the strong bread flour in a mixing bowl and mix together. Pour over one tablespoon of lukewarm water and mix well. Cover the starter with kitchen paper and set it aside in a warm place (22–25 ̊C/72–77 ̊F).
2. During the morning of the following day, “feed” the starter with the remaining flours and about 2 teaspoons lukewarm water, stirring very well to combine. Set aside, covered as above, for a further 8 hours.
3. Rub the lamb shank with cardamom, cumin, smoked paprika, coriander, and cinnamon, and season with some salt. Set aside.
4. With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the skin of each tomato, then put them in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to stand for two–three minutes or until the skins have split, then drain. Plunge into cold water to stop them cooking, then peel off the skins and discard. Slice in half and scoop out the seeds, then finely chop the flesh.
5. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low, then leave to sweat, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until softened.
6. Increase the heat to medium, add the lamb and any loose spices, and sear for three minutes on each side. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a further minute until aromatic, then add the tomatoes, stock, saffron, if using, chickpeas, lentils, and bay leaf.
7. Cover the pan, increase the heat to high and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for one hour or until the lentils are soft and the meat is tender. Discard the bay leaf.
8. Remove the lamb from the pan and cut away the meat into small bite-sized pieces, then return the meat to the pan with the bone. You can extract the marrow with a narrow spoon or skewer if you like.
9. Dilute the starter, if using, with 100ml/31⁄2 oz/scant 1⁄2 cup water, stir well, then slowly pour it into the pan, stirring for about 20 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Stir in the preserved lemon and coriander and season with pepper. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with coriander and serve with dates, lemon quarters, and warm Arabic bread.
Recipe first featured in The Jewelled Kitchen, 2013 (Watkins).
Bethany Kehdy is a celebrated Lebanese-American chef, award-winning cookbook author, culinary anthropologist, presenter, and former Miss Lebanon (2002). The entrepreneur has cooked and consulted for restaurants, gourmet events, and high-profile figures the world over to full restaurant consultancies from New York to Mykonos. Kehdy believes cooking and eating should have no bounds and follow no superficial rules. Pushing the boundaries and dreaming up trailblazing takes on classics, neglected cuts and forgotten ingredients excites her. “I believe that cuisine, especially Middle Eastern cuisine, should evolve as it always has,” she says. “I also think it’s important that we become acquainted with the roots and history first in order to build on this knowledge and maintain the cuisine’s soul essence.”