Spiced Chickpea Stew with Sweet Peppers, Onions & Saison
This recipe came together rather by chance. Ethiopian spice mix? A castaway from the Kandake beer-making experiment. Yellow, orange and red peppers? I had about five pounds of these, some a little soft and wrinkled, for reasons too laborious to get into here. Rather than make a hot sauce, or roasting the peppers to put up in jars, I thought I’d turn this into a comforting, one-dish meal with just a couple more things that were laying around.
It was a terrific fate for these ingredients, if you ask me. There’s nothing better than warm chickpeas, fully absorbed with sauce, to transform a vegetable side dish into a hearty meal. They’re full of starch and protein, like most beans, but their substantial size and meaty bite gives you a little more something to chew on. I think they also taste really good with plenty of spice.
That spice in question was a blend of birdseye chilies, cardamom, ginger and garlic known as berbere spice blend. It was something I’d picked up at Kaluystan’s when searching for African ingredients for the Kandake beer. We didn’t end up using it for the beer (because of the garlic powder), but I was eager to put it to some good use. Once it was added to the sauteed onions and sweet peppers, the room smelled of something no one could quite put their finger on. Not curry… but close. Whatever it was, it smelled “good” according to the brewers, random guests at the brewery, and all who came within earshot of it.
To give this dish a soupy consistency, I added first beer, then about half as much water, and let the vegetables cook down. The beer was a new spring-summer Saison from Sixpoint, called Harbinger (it can be found in several bars now). I was at the brewery, you see. If I’d known I was going to add them a good day or so ahead, instead of a few moments before the fact, I’d have soaked and cooked dried chickpeas to add next. But alas, I opened a can, rinsed and drained, and stirred them into the mix.
A squeeze of fresh lemon and dusting of parsley gave this dish simple refinement and balance. I didn’t shy on parsley, because the leafy green herb is so dense in vitamins — and looks pretty, too. That was basically it. A drizzle more olive oil at the end for some sheen, a spoon, and a crust of bread to soak up the broth.
This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about when I encourage folks not to be afraid to throw together a questionable “dish.” I’ve made several bad apples following this theory, but they only become grow fewer and farther between the more you practice it. Sometimes, you get a real star, as with this one, and my co-workers agreed.
Spiced Chickpeas with Sweet Peppers, Onions & Beer
(makes about 6 servings)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
about 2 lbs red, yellow and orange sweet Italian peppers, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon berbere spice mix (or try making a blend using cayenne pepper, ground ginger, cardamom and anything else you like)
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
1 cup light-colored beer, preferably a Saison
1/3 cup water
salt and black pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
In a large pan with a lid or pot, cook the onions in olive oil over medium-low heat, until soft. Add the peppers and garlic, and continue to cook, stirring, a couple minutes. Add the spice mix, a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir. Increase heat to high and add the beer and water. Bring to a rapid boil and cook, stirring, a couple minutes. Add the drained chickpeas. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally if desired.
Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as desired. Add lemon juice, and an extra drizzle of olive oil (optional). Serve with the chopped parsley as garnish and with bread (optional).