Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Almonds

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: At least 2 hours (much less with cooked or canned chickpeas)

The combination of chickpeas, almonds, and saffron is found throughout the Mediterranean, but especially in Spain. Both intense flavor and a range of textures are at play here, with the nuttiness of the beans and almonds tempered by subtle seasoning. If you have a chunk of manchego or other good semihard cheese handy, set it on the table with a grater to add a little last-minute richness.

3/4 cup roasted almonds

1/2 pound dried chickpeas, washed and picked over, or about 2 cups cooked

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron, or more if you have it

6 cups vegetable stock or water

1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves for garnish

01 Use the flat side of a wide knife or cleaver or a small food processor to break the almonds into large pieces.

02 If time allows, soak the chickpeas for several hours or overnight in water to cover. (If it does not, boil them for 2 minutes, then soak for 2 hours; or just start cooking them, unsoaked.) Put in a pot with fresh water to cover by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour, or until tender.

03 Put half the oil in a deep skillet or a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic, a large pinch of salt, and some pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the almonds and the saffron. Turn off the heat.

04 When the chickpeas are tender, remove them from the heat and drain them, reserving their cooking water. Add the chickpeas, along with about 1 cup of their cooking water and the stock, to the almond mixture. Mash with a potato masher or spoon until some or most of the peas are crushed (the final texture is a matter of taste). Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. Taste, adjust the seasoning, garnish, and serve.

Variations

Chickpea Soup with Olives and Oranges. A terrific mix of flavors: Omit the almonds and saffron. Coarsely chop 1/2 cup pitted green olives and peel, seed, and roughly chop 1 orange. In Step 2, after cooking the onions, stir in the olives and orange pieces and cook, stirring occasionally for another minute or two. Turn off the heat and proceed with the recipe.

Chickpea Soup with Spinach. The bitterness of the spinach is perfect here: Omit the almonds and saffron. In Step 2, after cooking the onions, stir in 1 pound fresh spinach, washed, trimmed, and coarsely chopped. You might also stir in 1/4 cup each of raisins and toasted pine nuts. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach wilts, then turn off the heat and proceed with the recipe.