Chickpea & Herb Dumpling Soup

IMG_3514Though you wouldn’t necessarily know it, yet, spring is already transitioning to summer here in the Midwest. Sure, the mornings are still somewhat brisk and there are still days when you wonder why you put your winter clothes away, but that really is what spring is all about: transition. I know summer is on its way because I’ve already had several days where I walk to work with a light jacket and walk home carrying it, sweating with a confused look on my face.

And, of course, nature has its own tell-tale signs that summer is coming. The tulips have almost completely faded, taking with them the crocuses, snowdrops, pussywillows, and magnolias. Now, on our after-dinner walks (which involve more and more daylight with each passing day, I might add), we are seeing a grand parade of irises, pansies, peonies, and other early summer delights. A freak cold snap or a dark, dreary day might be enough to discourage a less hardy soul, but I can tell summer is creeping in.

In these days of transition to summer, it might seem a soup would be out of place. Soups are often thought to be a slow-cooking, warm-you-up meal for wintertide. But, in the topsy-turvy days of spring — when summer doesn’t know if it’s coming or going — sometimes a bowl of soup is just the thing you need.

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I usually make soup or stew for dinner on Sundays (especially during colder weather). I find soup recipes are especially handy for Sunday nights when you’re likely trying to tie up the ends of the busy weekend and wind down a little before Monday strikes. Today’s soup recipe was a surprise hit on one of our recent Sunday Soup Nites. It even got bonus points for being vegetarian! (I made a few tweaks to the recipe from “Homestyle Vegetarian”.)

Let’s Talk Ingredients

If you’ve not noticed from my various ramblings about gardening or cooking, I love herbs IMG_3480(not to mention spices). In my mind, they’re just this side of magical. Whether fresh or dried, they add a uniqueness and brightness to almost any recipe. The fresh herbs used in this recipe add a remarkable fresh, clean taste and are easy to find at the farmer’s market or grocery store (assuming you don’t grow them yourself).

For the parsley, I opted to use the more common curly-leaf kind since the flat-leaf Italian parsley from our balcony wasn’t quite ready to begin harvesting. For the chives… well, James has to take accidental credit for this one. While at the farmer’s market, I sent him to one of the herb vendors to pick up some chives while I perused the fancy potato selection at a separate stand. When I got home and unpacked the bags, I held up what appeared to be a bundle of very long, wide-bladed grass.

“What is this?” I asked.

“Chives,” James said, simply.

These are not chives. Chives are not flat, and [breaking the leaves] chives smell oniony… [sniffing] these smell nothing like onions. What did you buy?”

James, innocently, replied, “I asked the lady for some chives and this is what she gave me.”

I shrugged my shoulders and went ahead with the unpacking without saying a word. Deep in the recesses of my mind (and probably very visibly across my face) I wondered if James didn’t accidentally pick up some strange kind of grass instead of chives. James can be a sucker for a sales pitch too! Maybe the sneaky herb lady was trying to hock some kind of chive knock-off on unsuspecting shoppers?

It was only after tasting this soup and the exciting flavor the herbs added that I researched and found out what he’d bought: garlic chives. They are excellent used in any recipe that calls for chives, imparting (in my opinion) a much more meaningful and IMG_3477noticeable flavor than regular chives. We went on to use the rest of them in a very tasty omelet, incidentally. If you can’t find garlic chives, regular fresh chives will do (don’t use dried chives, though; they taste like nothing).

The other stand-out ingredient in this soup: chickpeas. You might know them better as garbanzo beans depending on where you live or shop. Basically, there’s no difference between the two (though some etymologists may disagree). In my opinion, chickpeas don’t grace the North American table often enough — at least not in an obvious form. They’re often ground into a paste and combined with tahini to create everyone’s favorite, healthy dip: hummus. But, the noble chickpea is right at home in Mediterranean and Indian cuisine. You’ll most likely be able to find them down the canned bean aisle next to the more familiar bean varieties.

How do they taste? Well, I think they taste similar to boiled peanuts, personally, and their texture is not too far from that, either. They’re definitely nutty and are not mushy like kidney beans. Not to sound like your grandmother, but, “Try them. You’ll like them.”

All About Dumplings

Though the herbs and the chickpeas play a major role making this soup exceptional, the real credit goes to the dumplings. We were really shocked at how fluffy they were on the IMG_3482inside — and how cheesy and herb-a-licious they were too! Like little biscuit pillows floating in your soup bowl, these dumplings are definitely worth savoring.

Making them is easy. Just like homemade biscuits, the dough will be a little “shaggy” and you will want to handle it as little as possible — just enough that they hold together. And, also like biscuits or other pastries, keeping the dough chilled and your hands floured will guarantee success (not to mention it’ll guarantee you won’t have 2-3 dumplings smeared onto your hands rather than in the soup pot).

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Apart from the herbs packed into the dumplings, the other secret ingredient is parmesan cheese. The cheese serves to add savory flavor to the dumplings, supporting the herb flavors, and definitely helps to hold the dumplings together while they simmer. Be sure to use quality, freshly-grated parmesan. (Definitely don’t use that powdered stuff IMG_3478in a can.)

The only technique to observe, here, is the difference between simmering and boiling. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to learn this finite difference. Cooking dumplings requires simmering: too little heat and the dumplings won’t cook and will be rather gummy; too much heat and the rolling boil will dissolve the dumplings. Since the soup cooks with the lid on, you’ll need to keep an eye on things, making sure the heat building up inside the pot doesn’t eventually lead to a full boil. Also, it’s not really necessary to stir the soup much at all while the dumplings are cooking. Too much stirring leads to tragic dumpling failure!

Chickpea & Herb Dumpling Soup

Adapted from Homestyle Vegetarian
Serves 4

    1 tablespoon canola oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, crushed
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    1 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/4 teaspoon chili powder
    2 whole bay leaves
    2 15-ounce cans chickpeas – drained and rinsed
    4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
    2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter – chilled, cut into pieces
    1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
    1/4 teaspoon dried savory, crushed
    1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/4 – 1/3 cup 1% milk

    Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat; add the onions, saute 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add the crushed garlic, cumin, coriander, chili powder and bay leaves; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the chickpeas, vegetable stock, tomatoes, and cilantro; bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

    Meanwhile, measure flour by lightly spooning it into a measuring cup and leveling it with a knife. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the chilled butter to the flour; cut into the flour using a pastry blender or two forks, until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the grated parmesan, parsley, chives, savory, and pepper until combined. Add the milk gradually, stirring lightly with a fork; use only enough milk so that a clumpy, shaggy dough forms.

    With floured hands, form dumplings by rolling approximately 1 tablespoon of dough in your palms lightly until a ball forms (do not overwork the dough), press lightly together with your fingertips; dough yields 12-14 dumplings.

    Add the formed dumplings to the simmering soup, stirring carefully once; cover and monitor the heat so that the soup does not boil and dissolve the dumplings. Simmer for 20 minutes. To check dumplings for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center and see that it comes out clean.

    To serve, divide dumplings evenly between four large soup bowls; ladle soup over dumplings, sprinkle with additional chopped fresh herbs.

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The smell from your kitchen while the herbs, cheese, and tomatoes work their magic will be spellbinding. Unlike most soups involving tomatoes, this recipe is surprisingly not acidic. The tomatoes, instead, melt away into the background with the added spices, providing support for all of the heady herb flavors. And the dumplings… we talked about these dumplings for days. Not only were they cheesy and biscuity, they also added a velvety texture to the whole soup.

This makes four quite large servings and reheats easily for a tasty work week lunch. Because of the dumplings, it doesn’t freeze well, so be sure to use up the leftovers within a few days.

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~ by Jason on June 6, 2011.

One Response to “Chickpea & Herb Dumpling Soup”

  1. Sounds good if only I was there where its cool afternoon and mornings.

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