Saturday, 15 January 2011

Revithada - chick pea soup (Ρεβιθάδα)

We all like chickpeas, which to my mind are the sweetest beans around. Apart from being turned into a soup in their dry form, they are also a popular fresh snack, with bushels still sold on the streets in Iraklio (it's been a long time since I saw this in Hania) when they are in season, in late May/early June.

street seller iraklio selling fresh chickpeas fresh chickpeas in their pod

They are also roasted and salted, and eaten as a common snack in cafes, often served with other nuts, along with a nip of tsikoudia (raki). 

chickpea and nuts snack with raki tsikoudia

Flour made from chickpeas is very tasty, but it isn't often used in Greek cuisine or regional Cretan cuisine - I've only seen it called for in recipes for koliva (along with another unusual ingredient - roasted crushed sesame seeds).

chickpea flour and roasted seasme seeds

Although chickpea soup is a favorite in our house, I don't make it often because, like gigandes, these beans need soaking, unlike the beans used in other popular Greek bean dishes like fasolada and lentils (fa-kes), so I can't really make it the night before, to serve for the next day's lunch (unless you use a pressure cooker - I still haven't got the hang of those things).

Here's the most common preparation of chickpea soup in Hania.

You need:
a packet (500g) of chickpeas
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 fat cloves of garlic,
half a wineglass of olive oil
the juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons of flour
1-2 cups of chopped spinach or other mild fresh winter greens (optional)
a fistful of raw rice (if you aren't using the greens)
salt and pepper for seasoning.

revithada chick

Soak the chickpeas overnight. The next day, drain them, discarding the water, and boil them in fresh water for an hour, or until they get soft enough to chew, without being mushy. Heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic till translucent. At this stage, you can add some chopped spinach, heating it until it wilts. (Cooking greens with beans is very common in Greece.) Then add the chickpeas, salt and pepper, and just enough water to cover the chickpeas by about an inch on the top. Let the pot simmer, closed, until the soup has blended and the chickpeas are soft (not crunchy - but the texture of the beans always depends on the preferences of the eaters).  

In the meantime, boil the rice (which is optional if you aren't using the greens - but both can be added if you wish, for a winter comfort food dish) separately until the al dente stage. In a small bowl, mix the flour with the lemon juice, stirring it all until it forms a thick sludge. When the chickpeas are done, add the lemon and flour mixture and blend it into the soup, then add the rice (if using), and let everything cook till it is blended and heated through. If you prefer not to use flour for health reasons, you can puree some of the chickpeas instead. The rice can also be added raw to the soup and cooked with the chickpeas, adding extra liquid.

This revithada contains wild mustard greens, a tasty leafy green that had just sprouted in our olive grove in late December, evidence of climate change, since it is a strange time for it to sprout; it's normally considered an early spring green. Mustard greens are tasty and edible before they start flowering.

The soup is ready to be served. All it needs is an extra sprinkling of lemon juice. It's a little thick, like a stew, so you really don't need much more to go with it, except perhaps some feta cheese. Another version of this soup uses bitter orange instead of lemon juice. If you're making the version using greens, you can add a dollop of Greek yoghurt or single cream in each individual plate when serving the soup (in the same way that the chef at MAICh cooks revithada for the live-in students).

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