Categorized | Good Eats

Spicy Harissa Adds Zing To Chickpea Soup


Our version of this brothy-bready soup gets punches of flavor from garlic, tomato paste and toasted cumin, but a defining ingredient is harissa.

By Christopher Kimball

In Tunisia, partiers and laborers line up during the pre-dawn hours for the same thing — steaming bowls of lablabi, a hearty soup of chickpeas and stale baguette that tastes so much better than it sounds.

For an older generation, lablabi is hot breakfast. For a younger, it is late-night, after-club grub. Like so many of the world’s soups, it was born to use the bits and scraps a kitchen naturally produces.

But unlike the long, low simmers so often used to draw such ingredients together, lablabi is built in the moment. And as a composed, rather than long-simmered soup, its flavors and textures remain pleasantly distinct — and perfect for our book, Milk Street Tuesday Nights, which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less.

Our version of this brothy-bready soup gets punches of flavor from garlic, tomato paste and toasted cumin, but a defining ingredient is harissa. The North African red pepper paste packs both heat and a range of spices, adding complexity that ties all the flavors together.

Instead of using stale bread, we got better texture by toasting chunks of crusty bread in olive oil to make croutons while the soup simmered. Green olives, cilantro, soft-cooked eggs and plenty of harrisa were perfect toppings, and a hit of lemon juice to finish keeps things tasting bright.

Chickpea & Harissa Soup (Lablabi) 

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 8

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more to serve

1 large yellow onion, chopped

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

6 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons ground cumin, toasted, divided

6 tablespoons harissa, plus more to serve

Two 151/2-ounce cans chickpeas, ? cup liquid reserved, drained

2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth

8 ounces crusty white bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick and torn into bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus lemon wedges, to serve

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Chopped pitted green olives, to serve

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it browns, about 2 minutes.

Stir in 2 tablespoons of the cumin and the harissa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chickpeas, the reserved liquid and the broth. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil over high. Reduce to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the flavors have melded, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium, combine the bread, the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread is crisp and light golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the croutons cool in the pan, then transfer to a bowl.

When the soup is ready, stir in the lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons croutons in each serving bowl. Ladle the soup around them, then drizzle with oil. Garnish to taste with some of the remaining cumin, additional harissa, chopped cilantro and olives. — AP

For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

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