Chicken Chickpea Stew

Chicken and Chickpea Stew

I know I'm not the first to praise the restorative powers of chicken soup.

I've been meaning to make some of these, and nothing cheers me up in cold February like a big bowl of pho, steaming with anise-scented broth and lime juice.

And when new babies come or when tragedy or illness strikes, soup is inevitably my answer. I usually don't bring over a multi-course dinner, because I find that prevents me from offering. And I usually don't plan when I'll drop something by. I just do it according to my energy and schedule. And the recipient can always freeze it if 20 other people brought dinner that day.

I don't remember where I read the story of an American traveler, somewhere in remote parts of Southeast Asia. He approached a hut, needing a question answered or maybe needing shelter. He heard the inhabitants scurrying around, saying to one another, "There's someone on the porch! Let's make rice!"

I love that. I try to live by it--"There's someone on the porch. Let's make rice." Instead of keeping them standing at the door, having a perfunctory conversation, pretending like I don't have time, or resenting the interruption. I don't do this perfectly, but I know I won't get to the end of my life and wish I'd vacuumed the floor or answered my email instead.

My friend Liz's mom fell and broke her arm in 3 places, so it was soup time. I checked my pantry and freezer, and this is what I came up with. I rarely actually cook recipes out of magazines, but they always influence me. I'd just been reading the new issue of Saveur and their feature on Persian cooking (salivate!), so was thinking about pomegranate molasses and walnuts. 

Happy Rice-Making!

Chicken Chickpea Stew
Serves 6. If you don't have pomegranate molasses, just add a little more lemon juice. The tahini gives this soup a richness and depth that's unbelievable, but I bet you could substitute finely ground walnuts if you don't have tahini around. And chicken thighs are my favorite for this sort of thing, but you could certainly use breasts if that's what you have in your freezer. I didn't make this spicy since it wasn't for me, but you could spice it up with dried chile flakes, fresh chiles, or sambal.

If you're slow cooker kind of folk, this would be great in a slow cooker. I gave mine away because I like to fuss, stir, taste, and hover. I never wanted to be away from my project that long. I'm weird.

4 garlic cloves
4 Tb. olive oil
2 roasted red peppers, drained (I just used the kind in the jar)
2 tsp. cumin
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fresh or frozen 
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 28 can crushed tomatoes
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tb. tahini
3 Tb. pomegranate molasses
1 Tb. sugar
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro

Optional garnishes:
toasted walnuts
lemon wedges
olive oil
chile flakes 

In a food processor, pulse garlic and roasted red pepper until you have a puree. Heal olive oil in a large, heavy stockpot and add red pepper puree. Add cumin fry for a couple minutes, stirring constantly. Add everything else except cilantro and cover with about 1" of water.

Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender and flavors have melded. Break chicken pieces up with a spoon or remove them from the soup and roughly chop. Add them back and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice to taste and the cilantro.

Serve soup with garnishes, if you like, or with a scoop of rice or quinoa in the middle.