Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noodles

October 11, 2010

Aunt Suzy says

It’s soup weather and we love soup here at Sweet & Savory Kitchens.  I received a version of this recipe from The Splendid Table via their weekly newsletter The Weeknight Kitchen – the soup was called Hlelem.  Since I love Middle Eastern food I got busy looking for variations of the recipe online and in some of my cookbooks from that area of the world.  There were many!  Some used chard, some did not.  Some used harissa, some not.  Not all recipes had both chickpeas and lima beans, some just chickpeas.  A recipe called Rechta uses fava beans and chickpeas, along with a whole chicken.  So you might be getting the point that this soup has lots of flexibility.  I took a little from this and a little from that to create this version, which I love for the aromas, the earthy flavor and the beautiful brick color.  We served it with mixed olives, whole wheat pita and hummus.   I thought wine pairing could be tricky – we finally settled on a low alcohol zinfandel from Dancing Bull, which was perfect!

The Soup Base

1 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 bunch Swiss Chard

1 medium red or yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)

1 large celery rib, diced (about 1/2 cup)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons EV olive oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1-2 tablespoons Harissa

2 quarts chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

If using cumin seeds, toast them in a heavy, dry skillet.  Grind in a mortar and pestle to a fine consistency and set aside.  Prepare the chard by separating the stems from the leaves with a knife.  Cut the leaves into ribbons about 1/2-1-inch wide and set aside – this should be about 7-8 cups.  Slice the stems into 1/2-inch pieces – this should yield about a cup.  Coat the bottom of a large dutch oven or soup pot with the olive oil and heat to medium.  Saute the onion, celery and chard stems over medium heat until they soften and start to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and the cumin and saute until fragrant, about 2 more minutes.  Add the tomato paste and stir to blend, then add the Harissa and stir to blend.  Add the chicken stock a little at a time, then the lemon juice and stir to blend.  Bring to a bubble, turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  COOK’S NOTES:   This can be done a day or two ahead of time if desired.  Heat the soup back up before proceeding to the next step.  I think a vegetarian version of this soup could be easily (and deliciously) made by using water instead of chicken stock.

Finishing and Serving the Soup

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (1-15 ounce can drained and rinsed)

1 1/2 cups cooked lima beans (drained canned or frozen)

1 1/2 cups dry fine egg noodles

3/4 cup diced chicken meat (optional)

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Bring the soup base to a bubble.  Add the chickpeas and lima beans.  I used frozen baby limas, which I recommend.  There’s no need to cook them before adding to the soup base.  Simmer, covered,  for about 10 minutes.  Add the chard and the egg noodles and simmer, covered,  for about 7-8 minutes until the chard is wilted and the egg noodles are al dente.  Stir in the chicken, if using, and the parsley.

Ready to serve!  Ladle into large bowls and sprinkle with the cilantro.

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