Last night’s dinner: a Moroccan chickpea stew

I’ve touched on this story before, but a few years ago Ella and I were in Marseille for my birthday. For lunch we headed to an authentic (read ‘basic’) little Moroccan restaurant near the old port. We’d heard rumours that their chickpea stew was rather excellent and it was prominent on the menu. Ella chose it and wished she hadn’t. Down in the rich depths of spicy sauce was something unpleasant: a large lump of lamb. It wasn’t the most fortuitous of days for Ella: a harbourside gull also gifted her a ‘lucky’ present on her head.

Thankfully, the experience hasn’t scarred her and we’ve not been put off chickpea stews. But then, how could we be? We make variations on them every few months. Indeed, there’s one we tried earlier here. That was my version. This is Ella’s and it bears much closer comparison with the heady, rich, deeply flavoured and rather unctuous bowl served up in Marseille – minus the ropey ruminant. In my book, Ella’s is better than my own version, though some might prefer the lighter one we featured earlier. Try this though, it’s lovely.

So, to the stove:

For a couple of big portions: finely chop one medium onion and fry in a little olive oil on a medium heat in a large stockpot or saucepan. As the onion starts to turn golden, add 2 small or 1 large bell peppers, cut into strips no wider than 1cm.

When the onions and peppers have softened add the dried spices: a dessert spoonful of cinnamon, a teaspoonful of paprika, a little ground chilli, and a dessert spoon of ground cumin. It might sound like a lot of spices, but it’ll take it.

Stir in the spices to coat the veg. As they soak into the softened veg and oil they will create a kind of paste. To this add a good squeeze of tomato puree. Stir again and ‘cook out’ the paste, heating it through in the pan for another five minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn.

Next, add a large handful of small waxy potatoes, halved or quartered so that they’re chestnut sized. Then add two tins of chickpeas. Stir in the potatoes and chickpeas and then add around 750ml of vegetable stock – enough that the liquid comes a couple of centimetres or so above the vegetables. Bring the stew to a boil then simmer for around 30 minutes until it has reduced and thickened a little. The longer you cook it the better it will get, so leave it longer if you like but don’t let it get too thick.

As it’s cooking, add a good dessert spoonful of dried mint. Season with salt and pepper and add some more cinnamon, cumin and mint if you think it needs it. Remember, a richly aromatic, deeply spiced stew is the intention.

And that’s it – except for for the vital topping of chilli sauce: with a large mortar and pestle grind up a clove of garlic, a few fresh red chillis and a dash of cinnamon together with a little olive oil until you create a fiery sauce. Serve this at the table alongside the soup and add as much as you dare.

I could eat this every day and the world would be a little bit of a better place.

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2 Comments to “Last night’s dinner: a Moroccan chickpea stew”

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