Recently, I received a surprise invitation from Better Homes and Gardens to be a part of their new BHG Recipe Insider program. Sweet! The deal is this: Twice a month they send me links to new recipes, as well as old favorites, and I review anything that catches my eye. There's no obligation to give a positive review, and I have the option to put my own spin on any of the dishes - and regular readers will know that I love nothing more than fiddling with a recipe! Needless to say, I accepted the invitation.
Among the first batch of recipes I received, I was most drawn to this Mediterranean chickpea chili. At this time of year, there are so many (not necessarily unwelcome, mind you) opportunities to eat heavy, cheesy, creamy, calorie-loaded foods that I'm more than happy to take a break from all that and make something hearty and satisfying that still somehow manages to feel light.
Enter this "chili" - with my own twist, of course. While the original recipe called for dried basil and a garnish of lemon zest and feta, I subbed in fresh oregano and thyme, kept the zest, and went with a crispy grilled haloumi cheese and spicy pickled Greek peppers for garnish. I also added some preserved lemon and saffron to the broth, threw in a shallot for good measure, and partially pureed the soup for thickness. After one giant bowl of this stuff, I was completely satisfied, but didn't feel weighed down. It was even better the next day for lunch.
Mediterranean Chick Pea Chili
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
makes 4 -6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped fine
1 large white onion, small dice
1 dried hot chili, crumbled
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small preserved lemon, seeds removed, chopped
3 14 oz. cans chick peas, drained
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable for a vegetarian version)
1 large pinch saffron
1 heaping tablespoon fresh oregano, plus extra for garnish
leaves from 2-3 thyme sprigs, to taste
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
zest from 1 lemon
pickled Greek peppers, sliced into rings (you could also use pepperoncini)
8 oz. haloumi cheese, sliced, grilled, and chopped into "croutons"
salt and pepper, to taste
In a stock pot, saute the shallot, onion, and pepper over medium heat in the olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the lemon, chick peas, saffron, and chicken or vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. With an immersion blender, very roughly puree the soup to achieve a thick texture. Add the oregano, thyme, and olives, simmering for another 10 minutes. During this time grill the haloumi slices and then chop them into small "croutons." Add the grape tomatoes and cook until slightly mushy. Salt and pepper to tate - but be careful with the salt, as the haloumi will add a salty component.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with the picked peppers, haloumi, and a dusting of the lemon zest. The nutty chickpeas and delicate saffron scented broth worked really well with the salty cheese and gentle heat from the peppers. A keeper! One note about the original version - while I think feta would add a great flavor to this dish, I enjoyed the crispy crunch of the fried haloumi so much that it makes me wonder if the feta wouldn't provide enough textural contrast. Only one way to find out - I'll just have to make it again and see!