I have written about my love for this kind of food before, but I reckoned that a healthy dose of repetition won’t harm, especially if it’s about promoting a classy, nourishing and tasty dish.
Greek cuisine is often associated with souvlaki, mousaka, stuffed peppers and tzatziki, commonplace in Greek restaurants around the world, along with meanders and statues of Olympian gods and godesses. However great these dishes may be, they do not capture the essence of Hellenic cooking, which to me is all about simplicity, and seasonal local produce.
Also, contrary to what people may think, Greek food is very vegetarian and – I daresay – vegan-friendly.
Beans, lentils and chickpeas are featured on the menus of most Greeks at least once weekly and it is no coincidence. Legumes are very nutritious; combined with other legumes or with grains and seeds they form complete non-animal protein.
In this ragout, the chickpeas are accompanied with spinach and chards. I use fresh greens, but you can of course use frozen ones.
- 400 g uncooked chickpeas (approx. the double when cooked)
- 200 g spring onions (a batch), or 2 dry onions
- 500 g chards (fresh or frozen)
- 200 g spinach (fresh or frozen)
- 50 g flat leaf parsley
- 2 tbsp dill (fresh, frozen or dry)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 0.5 tsp cumin
- 0.5 tsp turmeric
- 0.5 tsp chili
- 2 tsp rock salt
- some water
- olive oil
- Most legumes need to be soaked for at least four hours before cooking. Soaking overnight is practical - you sleep, they soak.
- For this recipe you will need around 400 gr of uncooked chickpeas. They will double in size and weight. Pour plenty of water over them and change the water a couple of times. I soaked my peas for two days.
- 1-2 hours before you launch the cooking, add a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder to the water.
- When you are ready to start cooking, rinse the peas and place them on a clean kitchen towel. Fold the edges towards the centre to make a pouch. Think of someone you dislike and kneed the chickpeas briskly against the kitchen counter. This will help remove the husks and release some steam.
- Place the peas in a bowl and pour water over them. Remove the husks that float to the surface. Rinse.
- Place the chickpeas in a big pot, cover with water and bring to the boil, skimming the foam. When the peas stop releasing foam, add a pinch of salt to the water, cover and let cook until tender. If you have a pressure cooker, add around 3 cups of water and pressure cook the chickpeas for 20 minutes (consult the instructions for use).
- Immerse the chard and spinach in water, i.e in the sink. Change the water. Rinse the greens leaf by leaf. Remove crushed and sulky leaves and rough-looking stems. Cut the greens in three/four parts.
- Chop the onions finely; mince the garlic; wash and chop the parsley and dill - frozen or dry dill works well too!
- Heat up 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic and chard stems. Stir and add the spices and herbs: turmeric, chili, cumin and dill. Cook for 3-5 minutes until soft.
- Depending on the size of your pot, you can either add the washed and cut chard - and spinach- directly to the 'master pot', or steam the greens separately in another vessel until they have decreased in volume.
- Add only a hint of water - the greens will release a lot of liquid while cooking.
- When the chard and spinach have softened and reduced in volume, it's time to add the chickpeas, together with some of the chickpea broth, and the salt. If you are using canned peas, strain them and add them to the chard & spinach mix.
- Let the peas and chard simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the parsley and leave the pot on the hot stove. You can put a kitchen cloth between the lid and the pot, to keep the steam in.
- Prepare the greens and chickpeas as described previously.
- Place the chickpeas, onion, garlic and spices in the cooker together with three cups of water and pressure cook for about 20 minutes (if you want, you can slightly stir-fry the onion and garlic before adding the peas and closing the lid).
- When the cooking time has passed, let out the steam and open the cooker according to the instructions for use.
- Add the chopped greens. Put on the lid, close and place on the stove for another 5 minutes of cooking on low heat.
- Turn off the heat and leave the pot on the stove. Then let the steam out, open the lid but leave it on, ajar, letting the chickpeas absorb the juices.
- You can use only spinach, or only chards.
- Take a shortcut and use ready cooked chickpeas.
- If you are preparing the chickpeas from scratch, make a bigger batch while you are at it. Any excess you can freeze and use later. You can also put some peas aside to make houmous.
- Serve with olive oil, lemon juice and tahini.
- Combine the ragout with a wholegrain cereal, a nice and rustic match. Whole oats is a tasty alternative to rice. Soak the oats overnight in two parts water, then transfer with the water to a pot, add a pinch of salt and boil until soft; before serving, toss the oats in the pan with some oil and add some freshly ground black pepper.