An irresistible whiff of the Middle East in the Middle Ages
1/2 pound dried chickpeas
1/4-pound slab bacon, cut into 6 pieces
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 large onion, peeled and halved, studded with 4 cloves
2 teaspoons ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound fresh spinach, washed carefully and chopped
extra-virgin olive oil for garnish
1. Place chickpeas in a medium bowl. Cover them with cold water and let soak at room temperature overnight.
2. When ready to cook, drain and discard soaking water. In a soup pot, cook the bacon over moderate heat until brown. Add the drained chickpeas and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, clove-studded onion, coriander, and cover with boiling water by an inch. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, partially covered, for at least 2 hours, adding additional water as necessary to keep the chickpeas covered with liquid. When the chickpeas are no longer crunchy, remove the onion halves. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Remove about one half of the soup and purée it in a blender, food processor, or a bowl using a masher. Return it to the pot. Add the spinach and cook for another 2 minutes, or until spinach is bright green. Serve hot. Garnish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil.
Many of the hallmarks of Spanish cuisine (and its offspring cuisines in the New World) are relics of the Muslim occupation of the Iberian peninsula from the eighth century to the fifteenth century. Dishes involving almonds, apricots, saffron, rice, and chickpeas (all among the many ingredients brought to Spain by the Moors) fall into this category. Okay, so Spaniards today throw a little bacon into this great soup -- it's still an irresistible whiff of the Middle East in the Middle Ages. You could make this soup with chickpeas out of a can, but you'll get much better texture and flavor if you start with dried chickpeas. Serves 8 as a first course