Lablabi may not need many ingredients, but the flavors are so vibrant you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise. It's filling thanks to the chickpeas, and has great depth due to the spices including cumin, garlic and lemon. Perfect for a cold day, or any excuse.
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Tunisian cuisine is probably one of the lesser known cuisines internationally. Sadly many may confuse it with neighboring Morocco or group it as generally North African. Yes, there are some common ingredients and styles, like a wide use of couscous, but there is more to it as well.
Tunisian cuisine has influences from the various communities that have influenced or occupied the country including Arab, Spanish, French and Italian (particularly Sicilian). It shares some of the common ingredients used around the Mediterranean like olive oil, tomatoes and seafood.
Some dishes are similar to others found in the region, like Tunisian salad is much like salade Nicoise. Then you have chakchouka, also called shakshouka, which is originally Tunisian and adopted elsewhere.
One of the things that distinguishes Tunisian cuisine from some of its neighbors is that a number of dishes incorporate some spiciness, along with other bright aromatic flavors including cumin, garlic, rose water, orange water and fresh herbs.
Harissa, which is a paste make with peppers and chilis, is a common way to add some heat to a number of dishes. In this dish, while you don't have to use harissa, it's a common addition and adds great flavor, so I highly recommend it.
Origins of lablabi
This is one of those dishes where the origins are unclear, and more myth than fact. Some stories suggest it was developed during wartime, as a way to feed the troops and citizens at a low cost but with a good level of nutrition.
As for the name, that too is a little unclear though some say it comes from the sound made as the chickpeas simmer away in their broth.
These days you'll find it as a staple at street stalls and small cafes, particularly as a cheap breakfast. But despite being low cost to make, it's packed with flavor and is nutritionally pretty rounded, too. Personally I love it as a lunch on a cold day.
What goes in lablabi?
As mentioned, this is really a very simple dish, with the core components being chickpeas, a thin broth and some simple, but vibrant, seasonings. The main flavors are garlic, cumin and lemon. Beyond that, things can vary.
Some add the lemon in the form of preserved lemons, which have a little more of a briny flavor. Then most add some harissa to give the dish a bit of spice. You can also add some fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley.
The chickpeas, though, are the the heart of this dish, even if the rest is what really gives the flavor. They add the bulk that makes this a meal.
You can, if stuck for time, start with canned chickpeas, but starting with uncooked chickpeas is definitely better. For one, they have a firmer texture which means they are less likely to break up. Plus they also take on some flavor from the spices as they cook.
Ways to serve this (and make it a fuller meal)
While you don't have to, most typically serve the chickpeas and their broth over chunks of stale bread. The bread both mops up the liquid, but also dissolves into it to give a silky smooth texture.
It is also common to add an egg, either directly into the broth or as a poached or fried egg on top. In both of these ways, and with the garlic flavors, the dish is a little like Spanish sopa de ajo.
Along with egg, other common additions to top this are tuna and/or olives, as well as maybe some fresh herbs. The tuna helps make it a fuller meal, but without it, this dish is vegan (or vegetarian, with the egg), and still nicely filling. So, feel free to add, or not, as suits.
Lablabi might seem like it takes some time to make, but it's easy to prepare and is more of a 'let it get on with things' dish. You don't need many ingredients, but each adds a special something to make this one fantastically tasty, comforting dish. Perfect especially on a cold day, but really you could it enjoy it any time.
Try these other comforting soups and stews:
- Harira (Moroccan lentil and chickpea stew with bright ginger and tomato flavors as well as pasta in the mix)
- Fabada Asturiana (Spanish pork, bean and chorizo stew - another easy to make dish)
- Romesco de peix (Catalan fish stew, a little more work but incredibly comforting and tasty)
- Plus get more North African recipes and lunch recipes in the archives.
- 1 cup dried chickpeas
- 3 cups water
- 1 clove garlic crushed or grated
For sauce to finish:
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic crushed or grated
- 1 tablespoon harissa
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon salt
To finish (optional but worth adding):
- 2 slices stale bread eg sourdough
- 2 egg
- Soak the chickpeas in plenty of water overnight - make sure they are well covered as they will expand as they soak and you want them to continue to be covered.
- The next day, drain the chickpeas and place in a pot then add the water. Crush or grate the clove of garlic and mix through. Place over a medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for around 1 hour until the chickpeas are tender.
- As the chickpeas cook, mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, harissa, cumin and salt to form a smooth sauce.
- When the chickpeas are nearing being done, tear or chop the bread into bite-sized chunks and place in the bottom of two bowls. Bring a pot of water to a boil, reduce the heat slightly then add the eggs, one at a time, to poach them. Cook for a couple minutes until the white is just cooked (remember it will likely cook a little more in the soup).
- Once the chickpeas are cooked, stir in the sauce so that it is well mixed through. Divide the chickpeas and the broth with it between the two bowls, pouring over the bread so that it soaks up the broth. Top each bowl with a poached egg and serve.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
I first shared the recipe for Lablabi (Tunisian chickpea soup) on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.
I have been loving stew lately and I really love this one! The chickpeas are so incredible!!
So glad you enjoyed!
This chickpea stew was the absolute perfect simple dinner for our family tonight! We served it with some crusty bread and a light salad and it was delicious!
Glad you enjoyed, and all sounds great!
Love finding new chickpea recipe, this was delicious and you definitely have to add the egg!
I am with you - an egg on top is a must for me!