Nov 062009

By now, you’ve probably been able to tell that I’m having a love affair with Rancho Gordo beans. They’re just so damn good (and good for you) – I can’t help trying to put them into every food imaginable. I love them so much that someone who possibly lives in my house may have possibly placed an order for 45 pounds of beans from them a couple of weeks ago. My thinking was that I was buying a year’s worth of beans, but at the rate I’m finding fantastic recipes, the ten pounds of garbanzos may only last a couple of months. We’re not even going to mention the fifteen pounds of black beans and fifteen pounds of borlottis that arrived in the same shipment. But I digress.

I’ve recently started reading the Rancho Gordo blog and was ecstatic to find this particular recipe on there last week. It sounded so delicious, so healthy, and so satisfying, that I had to hurry up and make some chicken stock post-haste (as we had just run out two days before – like I’ve said before, the stuff burns a hole in my freezer) so that I could put this soup on the table.

Clearly, I hadn’t really been paying attention when I read up on the ingredients – I must have just been skimming for the produce I would need to add to the grocery list. So I didn’t really notice that it called for cinnamon until I was mise en place-ing everything. It was such a pleasant surprise though – we Americans are really missing out by regarding cinnamon as a wholly sweet spice rather than something that can be used to great effect in savory dishes. It brought a whole new dimension to the soup: adding a fullness not otherwise present and bringing to mind the most comforting of comfort foods. Try this on a cold, dreary winter night with a glass of lush cabernet and discover it for yourself!

Chickpea soup with barley and chard

Chickpea soup with Swiss chard and barley
Adapted from Turquoise: One Man’s Travels in Turkey, via the Rancho Gordo blog
Serves 6-8


  • Note to myself: use the purple barley next time you make this!
  • The original recipe called for 3 ribs of celery but I didn’t have it on hand so I didn’t use it, and I think it was probably better this way. I think there would have been too many textures otherwise. You can add it if you like.
  • Until fairly recently, pearled barley was the only type available. It’s not ideal, since it’s had the bran and probably most of the germ removed, so it’s essentially a refined grain. Luckily, you can buy hull-less barley from the bulk bins of health food stores these days and give this soup some whole-grain power.
  • This was ideal with a lush California cabernet – specifically, a bottle of Louis Martini. It’s easily one of the best wine pairings I’ve ever experienced. It would probably also be excellent with an old- or ancient-vine zinfandel!

You will need:

  • 6 oz dried chickpeas
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves on
  • 1/2 pound Swiss chard or beet/turnip green leaves (stems removed), shredded
  • 4 oz hull-less or pearled barley
  • 1.5 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 long red chile, seeded and shredded (optional)
  • 2 whole canned tomatoes, crushed with your hands
  • sea salt
  • lemon juice to serve
  • Greek-style yogurt to serve

To prepare:

  1. Soak the chickpeas (garbanzos) overnight in plenty of cold water.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Saute the onion, over medium high heat for 5-8 minutes, until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for two minutes. Add the spices, thyme and Swiss chard, then toss everything around in the pan for a few moments.
  3. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add them to the pan with the pearl barley, stock and bay leaves. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and summer, covered, for around an hour or until the chickpeas and barley are tender.
  4. Add the chile and tomato and season generously with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, remove the bay leaves and the thyme sprigs. Ladle the hot soup into warmed bowls and then add a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous spoonful of yogurt to each.

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