Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cream of Chick Pea Soup

Alas, readers, my ambitious plans for today have come to naught. I have, for some time now, had something of a bee in my bonnet (and, really, how would you spell "bonnet" without one?) about stuffed grape leaves. I've been wanting to make some for at least a few years now, and while finding things to put in the grape leaves is no big deal, finding the grape leaves themselves continues to elude me. I'm sure that I could put my hands on some canned grape leaves, but I would much prefer either fresh or frozen ones, and while the Good Humor man still occasionally drives through the neighborhood offering various formulations of frozen desserts, there is no Greek Humor man driving around with feta cheese and fresh grape leaves. (One cannot, of course, help but wonder what tune the Greek Humor truck would be playing, but I am fresh out of suggestions at the moment, so you'll just have to use your own imaginations. Mine has been sufficiently active for a sufficiently long period of time.)

As it happens, my parents' summer home, in Southwestern Pennsylvania right across from the Maryland border, has a small grape arbor, and while the parents themselves are still in Florida, I have keys to the house, and I'm sure the girls would like a trip up there, and I had hoped to take them last week and perhaps make some dolmas and blanch and freeze some extra grape leaves for later. Alas, the trip did not come to fruition, and while I may take them up next weekend, the future is always uncertain.

And then I remembered that for the past several years, along one of my very favorite walks, I have noticed and tracked the development of several wild grape vines. The wild grapes themselves are always very small, and there never seem to be enough of them to do much with, and you'd have to be there at the time of maximum ripeness to pick them, so they've never been much more than an object of curiosity. But, I thought to myself, even if I'm never going to use the wild grapes, why not use the wild grape leaves?

So when V. suggested a noontime walk today, I suggested that we go over to Lake Frank and walk there and look for wild grape leaves. He was amenable (it's one of his best qualities). We rode over, he parked the car, we walked for about a mile to where I remember seeing the largest concentration of grape vines. And no grape vines. Rather, no active grape vines. Plenty of large, old grape vines from seasons past, but nothing that looked like it was going to produce grapes or even leaves in the foreseeable future. (I tried to come up with an adequate expression of grief to go here, but I can't find, without undue effort, an explanation of the original context of "O tempora! O mores!"; "Oh, the humanity" is too overused even for my tastes; and while I have just returned from a production of La Bohème, "Mimi!" [though certainly evocative of grief] just seems wrong.)

Anyway, that particular disappointment was short lived, because on the way back to the parking lot, I found a number of other wild grape vines. Sadly, however, the largest leaves on these particular vines were not much larger than a quarter, and while I could probably be persuaded to make dolminis, I don't see the point in making dolmicros. The vines have obviously not been with leaf for long, and it is to be hoped that, in a few weeks, the leaves will be of sufficient size for stuffing, but there were to be no dolmas for me today.

But I had other items on my culinary agenda. As I mentioned in my post about my trip to NYC, one thing that caught my eye was a menu, posted outside a restaurant, that had "chick pea vicchysoise" as one of its lunch items. This seemed like a pretty easy thing to make, and since I was already going to the supermarket for other reasons, I determined to pick up some leeks and a can of chick peas. The supermarket was out of canned chick peas (it just hasn't been a good day for procuring), but I was pretty sure that I had a can at home, so I went ahead and picked up the leeks.

We here at anapestic believe in guilt. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church, where I was practically baptized in guilt on a daily basis. That was too much guilt, but while I did eventually manage to shake most of the guilt of my childhood, a life without guilt is a life where you never feel like you're getting away with anything, and who can live that way? Not me. You can't really feel guilty about the ingredients of this soup. There are, to be sure, a few tablespoons each of butter and cream, but in the context of a quart-and-a-half of soup, that's really very little fat. But you can go ahead and feel guilty about how incredibly easy it is to make. You can pretty much have this soup ready to go in twenty minutes from the time you started, and for most of that time, you don't have to do anything other than contemplate the nature of simmering. And I suppose that you could even skip that and fix yourself a nice drink or something.

Cream of Chick Pea Soup1

3 T. butter (salted or unsalted)
1 leek of decent size
1 medium onion
1 can chick peas, well drained
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1 quart chicken stock or broth
3 T. heavy cream
A few chives

In a heavy four-quart saucepan, melt the butter over very low heat.

Trim the root end of the leak. Slice the leak in the light green part. Discard the dark green leaves. Make a cut down the center of the leek and wash it well to make sure there is no sand. Thinly slice the leek. Add it to the melted butter.

Dice the onion. Add it to the melted butter. Cook the leek and onion over medium-low heat for about three minutes, or until they are nice and soft.

Add the chick peas, cumin, and paprika. Stir well.

Add the chicken broth/stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and simmer for ten minutes. Turn off the heat.

Blend the soup. Add the heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Snip in the chives. Serve.

In addition to being the kind of soup that makes Southern Baptists want to remind you that deviating from the straight and narrow is a bad idea, the soup is also extremely flexible. You could use vegetable stock instead of the chicken stock and have a vegetarian soup. You could add a second leek. If you don't have leeks, you could leave them out and use more onion. If you want a thicker soup, you could either simply add more chick peas or use a second can of chick peas and increase all the other ingredients by half. You can monkey around with the spices. You can cook some celery and/or carrots with the other vegetables or add some celery seed when you add the other spices. The chives are entirely optional. You could serve it cold. (I am not a big fan, generally, of cold vicchysoise. There is nothing wrong with it, but I don't see the point of a cold cream soup when hot cream soups are so much better. That said, I did have a small cup of this soup out of the refrigerator when I got home tonight, and it was pretty good that way. I still prefer it hot, though.) The main point is that I can almost always make some variation on this soup with what I already have in the house.

I used an immersion blender to puree the soup, and I think that's the easiest way, but you could use a regular blender or a food mill and get the same results. You could also opt for something chunkier and remove some of the chick peas before blending, blend the remainder of the soup, mash the reserved chick peas, and stir them back into the soup.

The flavors in this soup are fairly subtle. If you want bolder flavors, you could add some red pepper flakes when you add the other spices or just shake on some Tabasco when you're serving. I very much like the subtle flavor, but make sure that you do not undersalt the soup, or it will seem bland instead of subtle.

1I am not calling this soup "vicchysoise" because I would then have to live in fear that someday, somewhere, I would be talking to someone who happens to read this blog, and that person would mention my "vi-shee-swah," and I would be torn between the need to be polite and the equally compelling desire to shout, at the top of my lungs, that the correct pronunciation is "vee-shee-swahzz." The e at the end means that the final consonant is pronounced. I don't care what any ersatz French waiter or anyone else told you. Fortunately, however, I used a different name, so no one will ever be subjected to that rant.


Anonymous lindy said...

Strangely, on my stove at the very moment I am reading this is another ,er, potato soup variant.("V" is for variant) No leeks, so-sweated onions. And tiny cubes of yukon golds in very nice homemade chicken stock. My intent is not to blend them but to leave them as tiny cubes. I want to finish the soup with a "lettuce cream"+lemon thing I saw in a fancy pants cookbook at the library. (Also super easy recipe). If it is any good, I'll report.

Chickpeas are so wonderously versatile. To think I never tasted one until an adult...

6:31 AM  
Blogger goblinbox said...

Yum. I shall make this, or a variation, soon.

2:20 PM  

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