Leblebi (North African Chickpea Soup)
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A few weeks ago a friend emailed me telling me she had taken a pledge to eat pulses once a week for 10 weeks. Despite some reservations concerning my lentil-, legume-, and chickpea-recipe repertoire, I decided to take the plunge, too.
And so I’ve been cooking my way through the bean chapter of Twelve Recipes, which unsurprisingly has been a joy: last week I discovered dal and over the weekend, a spicy black bean soup flavored with orange zest, a subtle but bright touch to a wintry dish.
Most recently, I made the leblebi, a North African chickpea stew, swirled with a smoky harissa. Each of these recipes is made with water and none wants for stock or cream thanks to Peternell’s techniques: slow sweating of the onion, brief toasting of the spices, and thoughtful layering of herbs and garnishes.
I know little more about leblebi than what I’ve read in Twelve Recipes and the few recipes I’ve found online, but from what I gather it originates in Tunisia, is typically served at breakfast, and welcomes many a garnish: poached or hard-boiled eggs, a sprinkling of cumin or capers, a drizzle of olive oil or harissa, toasted bread, preserved lemon, tinned fish, or pickled vegetables.
I served it solely with Peternell’s simple homemade harissa and mopped it all up with tarka flatbreads.
This is the leblebi on day 2 — it thickens considerably as it sits. Thin with more water to taste or leave it thick and stewy.
Peternell gives two methods for making harissa; see recipe below:
Leblebi (North African Chickpea Soup)
- Total Time: 1 hours 25 minutes
- Yield: 4
Source: Cal Peternell’s Twelve Recipes
The original recipe calls for chopped or grated tomatoes or 1/2 cup of roasted tomato puree. I find the canned, crushed tomatoes to work just as well.
If you don’t feel like using dried chickpeas and cooking them from scratch, you can use canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed. You’ll need 6 cups (about three 15-oz cans).
Peternell suggests a few other serving ideas: croutons, a poached egg or hard-boiled egg, a sprinkling of ground cumin, oil and capers. I keep it simple and swirl in some harissa, which is now readily available at most markets.
You also can make your own: See Simple Homemade Harissa. Peternell offers two simple recipes as well:
- Make a paste with 2 tablespoons paprika and 3 tablespoons hot water. Add 2 teaspoons crushed garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and, if you wish, ground cumin and cayenne.
- Mix together 3 tablespoons sambal oelek, 1 to 2 cloves crushed garlic, and 6 tablespoons olive oil.
for soaking and cooking the chickpeas:
- 1 lb. dried chickpeas
- 3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoon kosher salt
for the leblebi:
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro stems and leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced or chopped
- 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (see notes above)
- 6 cups cooked chickpeas (either made from scratch as instructed here or canned, see notes above)
- harissa for serving (for Peternell’s quick recipe, see notes above)
- flatbreads for serving
- Soaking and cooking the chickpeas:Dissolve the 3 tablespoons of salt into 4 quarts of water. Add the chickpeas and soak for 8 to 24 hours. Drain, rinse and place in a pot with 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover with water by three inches. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook at the gentlest simmer for about 45 minutes or until the chickpeas are cooked through. Let the chickpeas cool in their cooking liquid. Store the chickpeas in their cooking liquid.
- Make the leblebi: Heat a soup pot over high heat. Add the oil, then the onion and a pinch of salt. Stir, turn the heat to low, and cover the pot. Check and stir after a few minutes, letting the moisture on the lid drip back into the pot to keep things steamy. Lower the heat if there is any browning going on, and re-cover. Cook like this until the onion is tender, about 15 minutes.
- Add the cumin, paprika, pepper flakes, cilantro and garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add 6 cups of the cooked chickpeas and enough of their cooking liquid to cover by 2 inches, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. (You’ll need about 4 cups liquid total: all of the cooking liquid, which was 3 cups plus 1 cup extra water — the chickpeas may not be covered by 2 inches, but it will be fine.) Season with salt to taste — I always add another teaspoon, but you may want to start with 1/2 a teaspoon and add more to taste.
- Lower to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Put 2 ladles of soup in a blender or food mill and purée — careful: it’s hot. (I used an immersion blender and puréed partially.) Return to the soup pot and stir in to thicken the leblebi slightly. Taste for seasonings and add water or any reserved cooking liquid if it’s too thick. Note: When reheating, you most likely will need to add water to achieve desired consistency.
- To serve: ladle the leblebi into bowls. Pass a bowl of harissa on the side. Serve with warm flatbreads.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hours 20 minutes
- Category: Soup
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Moroccan, North African
Keywords: Moroccan, chickpea, stew, leblebi, North African, vegetarian
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83 Comments on “Leblebi (North African Chickpea Soup)”
YUM. This soup is so up my alley. Loving all these hearty ethnic dishes you’ve been posting!
I think it’s this cold weather, Phoebe… makes me want to eat soups and stews and bread all day long. xo
Can’t wait to try, looks delicious . Just bought the book.
So happy to hear this, Barbara!
I want this soup bubbling on my stove this weekend, which will be cold and snowy. Just one question before I make it though: the recipe mentions “3/4 crushed tomatoes”. Is that 3/4 cup or 3/4 of a tin? PS I’m also heading right to my local bookstore and picking up a copy of this book which I will try to work through. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for catching this Marie! It’s 3/4 cup. And I’m so happy to hear this about Twelve Recipes! There are so many more recipes I am eager to try. Would be fun to have someone else exploring the book and making discoveries with me! Stay warm this weekend.
it looks as good as always!
amazing! it looks soooo delicious.
Thank you, Netzchen!!
Oh Alexandra! This looks delicious and I can’t wait to make it! I just made your naan from Baking Steel – how is this bread different? I’ve been doing great with the pulse challenge too. We’re eating two meals a week with them and I just ordered lots more Rancho Gordo beans. I’m having no luck finding lentils du Puy in the stores, so I may need to order them too. All the ones I have turn to mush. I do find lentils frustrating sometimes for that reason. This soup looks so dang good I’ll be making it soon! Thank you!
Hi Dana! Well, this is a much simpler dough: water, salt, yeast, flour — that’s it! I used these from Bob’s Red Mill, which I found right at my grocery store, but I know, they can be hard to find. Thanks for introducing me to the pulse pledge!
I cannot get over how beautiful this stew is. And that harissa swirl? Stunning and delicious! Pinning and sharing. 🙂
Thank you, Lauren, you are sweet 🙂
We love pulses! I think we’ve eaten them at least once a week for the last 10 years! This soup looks beautiful.
You are so ahead of the times, Alicia! I need to get with it 🙂
oh. My. God.
Wow does that look delicious! (and it’s got the drizzle thing going, too!)
It makes me so excited to try that lentil recipe you passed along, which may happen this weekend. We have friends visiting, and I think they would approve! 🙂
Cannot wait to try this — it looks so luscious. I’m equally excited for that flatbread recipe. YUM!!!
Hope you like it, Rebecca!
My family and I loved this dish. I used smoked paprika and it was a good twist. Served along with the tarka bread, my three kids and husband all cleaned their soup bowls! I will make this again!
So happy to hear this, rose! We had friends over this weekend, and I made the leblebi again, too! So easy and healthy and tasty. Thanks for writing in!
Just curious if your kids ate this? I have the hardest time getting my kids to eat beans and lentils!
I wish! My 10-month old will eat this, so I leave out the crushed pepper flakes, but the rest of my kids won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole … so sad! They’ve gotten pickier as they’ve gotten older, though there are glimmers of hope here and there with my five-year old, so I’m thinking they may become more open-minded with age? Fingers crossed? How old are your kids?
They are 6,4 and 15 months..
The baby eats everything I put in front of him, but the other two see beans (especially black beans!) and go running! I serve these vegetarian meals weekly and have for years. I am hopeful one day they will change their minds. (I’m a little nervous of my future grocery bill will 3 teenage boys so am determined to use less and less meat!)
Anyways, I just love your recipes and some have become staples at our house, but every time I see one of these beautiful pulse dishes I sigh because I know it’s futile and no one will eat it but me 🙂
I will keep trying though. One of these days I will persevere!
Kate, I know! I think about future grocery bills, too. We eat very little meat these days and still the grocery bill is SO high. I don’t know how people do it.
What frustrates me with these kiddos and their eating is that I think a lot of it is the initial texture. And I feel if they could just get past that first bite, they would eat so many more things. But, alas. That first bite often leads to dramatic coughing/near puking at the table, so I try not to push it 🙂
Thank you for your kind words. Means so much.
Everytime I look at this recipe and the photos I want to rush in and make it…something about soup and beans and bread….very cave womany…..I wish Spring were here…tired of the cold! XOXO!
You should! I wish spring were here, too, though I have to say our winter has been so mild that I am so grateful, and I don’t want to push my luck 🙂 But I hope you are staying warm, Laurie!! xo
I’m loving all of the legume love lately, Ali! This looks wonderful — I’d love to serve it with a dollop of soy yogurt. Yum.
I thought of you this weekend because we had friends in town and unintentionally I served them a completely vegan meal — leblebi, flatbread, salad, dark chocolate for dessert — and we all gobbled it up! I will have to try soy yogurt — that will be a first for me 🙂
Thank you Alexandra, this recipe was wonderful too! I can see myself using the method again and again with all sorts of beans.
Made it last night and served it with sliced boiled egg, fresh cilantro, and some harissa and flatbreads filled with labneh, mint and green olives bought from this great middle eastern market down the street from us.
Next up is the mixed dal, later this week! I have three types of lentil bag-ends kicking around so it’ll be perfect.
All this legume-cooking also reminded me how much I love to make this socca recipe that was in the Minimalist quite a few years ago, so we just had it for breakfast 🙂
I’m so happy to hear this, Lucy! All of your condiments sound like nice/fun additions, most especially those flatbreads!! Would be fun to try to make those sometime.
And thanks so much for the socca recipe! I love a recipe rec. Can’t wait to try it this week!
Another great recipe! Pulses seem apt for this time of year, and these last few recipes have been so straightforward that it’s been a no-brainer to try them out! I went slightly heavier on the spices and used really high quality pre-cooked chickpeas. I must admit that the soup was an unappealing puce shade, but what it lacked in beauty it made up for in flavour! I feel like is going to become a regular — perfect winter fare.
Alex, you are funny! Maybe that is why we have the harissa? … to mask the unappealing hue? 🙂
This was so good! A few fried eggs and this was such a flavorful dish. As others have done, my wife and I went out and bought 12 Recipes and it’s fantastic. Love the blog, and we have learned so much while having a blast in the kitchen–thank you!
Rafael, I am so happy to hear this! Thank you for the kind words. So happy you are liking 12 Recipes, too. Let me know if you make any discoveries 🙂
I made this today and it is delicious and simple. I added some harissa powder along with the other spices as I didn’t have fresh on hand. Really tasty soup !
So happy to hear this, LA! I love its simplicity, too.
What a wonderful recipe! It was so good actually, that right after the first pot was finished, I made another batch. This time I used yellow peas because I wanted to try it with more local ingredients. Might just prefer the original one though!
So happy to hear this, Helka! And it’s great that you experimented with the yellow peas — you never know what you might discover. Thanks for writing in!
Hi. I was thinking of making this as it sounds delicious… But how many cans of pre-cooked chickpeas would I need for this amount? <3
I would say about 3 of those 15-oz cans but check the size of the cans, and check the label, too — it will give you a rough estimate of how many cups are in each can. You need about 6 cups cooked. Hope that helps!
So happy to hear this, Vahini!
Hi does anybody know roughly how many portions this makes?
I would say it serves 4 comfortably. Will update recipe.
yay! So happy to hear this!!
Can I do this with canned chick peas? How much?
I’ve never tried, but I imagine it will work. I think you need about 4 15-oz cans of canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed, to get 6 cups of chickpeas
The flavors were really great but I screwed up on the salt so I had to improvise at the end to try to tone it down. I cooked mybbeans earlier in the day in a pressure cooker so i got confused about how much salt to put in the actual soup. Will definitely make again (when I’m less distracted!). My husband ate two bowls!!
So happy to hear this, Megan! Glad your husband still liked it despite the salt … that’s the worst. I do have a heavy salt tolerance and hand, so I need to be careful sometimes. Thanks for writing in!
Great recipe and so easy to follow. I never knew about “sweating” veggies until I found this recipe. I added mushrooms to sweat with the onions and it turned out great.
Thanks for posting this!
Awesome, so great to hear this, Erik!
I’ve had this bookmarked for a while but it never seemed like the most exciting thing to try, so I was shocked that we LOVED this. We’re already talking about making it again next week. Thank you!
So happy to hear this, Alison!
With three teenagers, one vegetarian, and two committed meat eaters, four spicy, one no spice I was amazed to hear that all five of us LOVED this meal. I added a cubed sweet potato, held off on the red pepper flakes, used (gasp!) canned chickpeas and served with harissa and Naan and Bratwurst for the meat eaters. Clean plates all around and lovely flavors! Thank you for the recipe!
Any thoughts on if I’d be missing a critical element by leaving out or substituting the cilantro? This looks amazing but alas I have the cilantro hating gene :p
I think you could substitute parsley with success or simply leave it out. Good luck with it! I love this one 🙂
Hi, Alexandra. Did the flat bread recipe ever get posted? I can’t find it when searching on the linked website. Can you direct link it for me? It looks like a perfect soup accompaniment. I love you recipes, book, and watching you cook on Instagram stories!
Oh, thanks, Angela! You are kind. Here is the recipe: http://www.bakingsteel.com/blog/homemade-tarka-flatbreads
I hope it turns out well! I can’t wait to have my kitchen back so I can use my Baking Steel again. xo
Is the 3 tablespoons of salt a typo or for real? Tried it, the main flavour of the stew is salt, it’s going in the bin.
The 3 tablespoons salt is for soaking the chickpeas. You do this overnight, then drain. The two teaspoons of salt is for the actualy leblebi. Did you use canned chickpeas?
In any case, I’m sorry there was confusion over the salt and that this ended in the bin … it’s such a good one. And the bean-cooking method which calls for brining (hence the 3 tablespoons of salt) is such a good one to know. Bummed this didn’t work out for you.