Fall in love with barley and chickpeas

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Freekeh, kamut, teff — it seems food writers can’t extol these ancient grains enough. If you can find them in stores, their high profile goes along with a high price tag.

Another ancient grain with a 10,000-year history sits alone on the shelf with the dried beans to little fanfare. It’s time barley got its due.

First cultivated in the Fertile Crescent, barley soon spread to nearby regions. It became entwined with Egyptian religious rites and celebrations. It was even used as an offering to the gods. Barley was also the main food of the Roman gladiators because it was believed that it gave them greater strength. Most grains can’t boast that pedigree.

Along with barley, Egyptians were big fans of the chickpea. In fact, another name for this legume is Egyptian pea. Some accounts say it was the Egyptians who first created hummus.

It is easy to see why chickpeas are so popular. Along with their nutty taste, they are low in calories but packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. They contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which help lower cholesterol. Farmers love them too, as they pull nitrogen from the air and affix it to the soil.

Wonderfully delicious and comforting, Egyptian Chickpea Soup is the perfect combination of these two great foods. Carrots and parsnips lend a hint of sweetness, and saffron brings all of the flavors together with its floral notes.

Warm and filling, it is a great choice for the winter months ahead. The soup is both vegetarian and vegan, so everyone at your table will be able to enjoy it.

Egyptian Chickpea Soup combines barley, chickpeas and vegetables for a comforting, filling meal.

Egyptian Chickpea Soup

  • 1/2 pound chickpeas
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large parsnip, chopped
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons salt and a few grindings of pepper
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 11/2 teaspoons chopped parsley

Soak chickpeas in 4 cups of water overnight. Drain, reserving the liquid. Add enough water to make it 4 cups.

Saute all of the vegetables in the oil until the onion is soft, about 8 minutes.

Sprinkle the vegetables with the cumin and flour to coat evenly. Add the soaking liquid, chickpeas and the remaining 2 cups water, saffron, bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Add the barley, cover and cook 30 minutes more. Taste for salt.

For a thicker soup, ladle 1 cup of soup into a blender and puree. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the parsley.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.