Spinach, chickpea, and potato soup

In Recipies on November 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm

One of my prized possessions is a binder that passes (using very generous words) as my cookbook.  Inside, there are hundreds of bulging page protectors containing sticky notes, newsprint articles and recipes, photocopies, emails, ingredient conversions and substitutions, and a jumble of scrawled notes to myself.  Oddly enough, I know where most things are filed (another very generous description).  When I found baby spinach and chickpeas on sale, I recalled seeing a recipe for an unusual soup using those two ingredients.

After about fifteen minutes of searching, I found the recipe I wanted.  It had been cut out of a newspaper or newsprint magazine and had some notes scribbled in the margins.  Unfortunately, at the time I collected the recipe (several, several years ago…judging by the condition of the paper), I did not write down the recipe’s origin.

Consequently, I will not hold the recipe up as a Phyne Dyning original.  But, the margin notes suggest that I can tout it as one of my many adaptations.

In one margin, there appears the notation “basterma” and an arrow pointing to a list of my substitutions.  Consequently, I first suspected the recipe to be Lebanese or Israeli in origin…I recalled that basterma is a very salty type of pastrami I have seen commonly served in northern Israel.  Before holding forth, I did an Internet search for similar recipes.

It is a recipe from the Balkan region of southeastern Europe…consisting of the countries of Greece, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and a few others.

Ah…”basterma“ in my notes alludes to basturma…a very salty pressed, semi-preserved meat similar to corned beef, but pickled with cumin, paprika, and fenugreek spices common to the Middle East and the Balkans.  It has a Yiddish cousin we all know as pastrami.


It seemed a bit extravagant to offset the bargain I got on spinach and chickpeas by blowing about $14 for more than a pound of unsliced pastrami to make the soup.  I knew it would be futile to make a quick hunt for basturma, although it could probably be found (for a price) at one or more of the local Bosnian eateries.

In true Phyne Dyning spirit, I substituted a pound of kosher smoked sausage from my freezer.  When I have more time (and dollars) I will strive to find basturma.

The soup has a wonderful, clear broth that lets the bright green of the spinach shine through.  The soup looks deceivingly light, but the potatoes, chickpeas, and meat make it very hearty and substantial.  I use my own vegetable stock that I freeze throughout the year.  Canned or dried vegetable stock may be used, but be careful not to add salt, particularly with commercial stocks or if using real basturma.

Enough Trivial Pursuits, let’s make some soup!

1 can chickpeas drained (or about 1# dried, soaked overnight)

1 lb smoked sausage, thinly sliced (or basturma if ya gots it)

10 C vegetable broth (SEE “Hints and Tips” elsewhere)

1 ½ lb potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

1/3 C olive oil

8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

12 oz baby spinach, stems trimmed off

freshly ground black pepper

That’s it!

In a large pot, over medium heat, warm about two teaspoons of the olive oil before tossing in the sliced garlic.  Cook gently for about thirty seconds or until the garlic is very fragrant.  Add in the sausage and toss with the garlic a few times before pouring in the vegetable stock.  At this point, you can add in the dried chickpeas (if you are using them) and cook the soup for about 30 minutes, or until tender.  Add the remaining olive oil and the potato chunks, cover, and cook for another 25 minutes.  If you are using canned chickpeas, add them with the spinach and continue to cook the soup for another 8-10 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook the chickpeas and potatoes into mush.

Ladle the soup into colorful bowls and serve with crusty bread and lots of freshly ground black pepper.


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