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This garlic spinach soup starts with a simple formula

Garlic Spinach And Chickpea Soup

Active Time:20 minutes

Total time:50 minutes

Portions:4 to 6

Active Time:20 minutes

Total time:50 minutes

Portions:4 to 6


I have a theory about soup recipes. They are superfluous. That’s because soup is really just a formula. You stuff a few variables in different ways only to end up with wildly varying and hopefully delicious results.

Let’s go through the elements.

First, there are the aromatics. Have you ever seen a soup recipe that didn’t start with a combination of onion, celery, carrot and/or garlic? Most of my favorite soups have all those things. (I’m sure someone will share with me a recipe that contradicts this, but I’ll insist it’s a rare exception.)

Then there’s the liquid. Usually it is broth or broth, but there are other options. It could be juice, or dairy products (more on that later), or even plain water. The liquid is the definitive element of a soup, be it the main source of flavor or a vehicle for all the stars swimming in the pool.

Next is the ‘stuff’. Whatever goes into the liquid will likely end up in the name of the soup. This is when things like tomatoes, or beans, or starchy veggies (think corn or potatoes) show up and take all the credit. When I’m cooking, it probably has mushrooms in it. There may be rice or noodles. For those who cook with meat, you now think of chicken or ham. The combinations and amounts are completely variable.

Finally, there is the texture. You can change that up in many ways, too, some without even adding another ingredient. Heavy cream can give a soup a velvety texture. So can cheese. But so is pureeing some of the beans already in it. Or potatoes.

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I started thinking about this while flipping through Suzy Karadsheh’s cookbook, “The Mediterranean Dish.” I came across this recipe for a chickpea and spinach soup, and at first I went straight over it, barely pausing, thinking it was the kind of soup I make every day when I look at my pantry without a plan. I turned the page, and maybe 10 more, before I realized that was actually the beauty of it.

You start with a large onion and as much garlic as suits your personality. There is vegetable broth and some chickpeas are crushed to make it thicker. Leave the rest whole and combine with spinach to be the central stars of your bowl. If you didn’t crush the beans at all, the soup would be fine, just thinner and chunkier. If you pureed all the chickpeas, the soup would be fine, it would just be thicker and more creamy.

The soup is delicious with the ingredients chosen by Karadsheh’s. But you can think of this recipe when you’re standing in front of the pantry without a plan. The chickpeas can become black beans, navy beans, or butternut squash. Or they can become barley, rice or tortellini. The spinach can become kale, canned tomatoes, or… what’s your favorite thing? That could be it.

That’s the formula. Start with chopped onion and a few cloves of garlic. Add about 4 cups stock and 3 to 4 cups canned or chopped vegetables. A few teaspoons of your favorite herbs or spices. Let it simmer. It’ll be fine.

So take it easy and check out this soup recipe. Then make it and enjoy. And then know that the next time you want soup, you don’t really need a recipe.

Garlic Spinach And Chickpea Soup

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  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 large yellow onion (about 10 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • 4 to 5 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Two (15-ounce) cans of unsalted chickpeas, drained with reserved liquid (may also use 3 cups cooked chickpeas with 1/2 cup cooking liquid)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth, store-bought or home made
  • 2 cups (2 ounces) baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Juice of 1 large lemon, divided
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese (can substitute vegan parmesan) (optional)
  • Crusty bread, to serve

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes and black pepper and stir to incorporate.

Add the chickpeas and stir to coat the spices. Use a potato masher or the back of a large spoon to coarsely mash the chickpeas, just enough to break some up a bit. Add stock and reserved chickpea liquid, reduce heat to medium and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium low, partially cover the pan with a lid and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach and parsley. Let the soup stand for 1 minute, then add half of the lemon juice. Taste and season with the remaining lemon juice and/or more salt, if needed.

Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and top each bowl with 1 tablespoon cheese, if using. Serve hot, with crusty bread.

Per serving (1 1/2 cups), based on 6

Calories: 194; Total fat: 6g; Saturated fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 235mg; Carbohydrates: 29g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 7g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.

Adapted from “The Mediterranean Dish” by Suzy Karadsheh (Clarkson Potter, 2022).

Tested by Jim Webster; email questions to voracious@washpost.com.

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