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Cicerchia Soup, Liminality and Mysterious Midnight Missions

March 30, 2010 · 19 comments

in Gluten Free,Soup

chickpea vegetable soup

This soup has nothing to do with a line of men walking to mosque in the dark but I wanted to tell you about them, because the breeze which has been so warm and springlike of late, has tickled my brain and this is what it regurgitated.

I used to rent a little red house with a tin roof in a village in the south of Thailand where the local population is largely Muslim. The island we lived on was ringed by resorts and bungalows of varying degrees of poshness but Ban Jet-li was a collection of no more than 15 houses set only slightly inland, though it felt miles away.

In the afternoons when the heat stilled everything, I used to lie in the hammock on the verandah and wait for the children to come and chat after school while they stuffed uncooked instant ramen noodles into their mouths like chips and licked the soup flavouring off their fingers.

They taught me to speak Thai unselfconsciously among various other things. Sometimes they would help me do the dishes – lacking a sink, we’d squat in the bathroom in sarongs, lather them all up with a sponge then rinse everything, including ourselves, with ladles of water scooped out of the indoor well. Even the littlest girls knew how to wash dishes and they astounded me with their matter of fact cloth-wringing borne of what I can only imagine was experience. It doesn’t sound like much, but I don’t recall ever seeing any western children doing it so…competently.

In a culture where privacy isn’t any sort of priority, there weren’t many moments in the day when I didn’t expect someone to pop over unannounced to see what I was doing, ask if I wanted to go digging for shellfish or chew the fat.

In the evenings though, all was calm. I’m pretty sure the average bedtime was about 9 pm (recall tropical sunsets happen close to 6 pm year round and life happens in the cooler early mornings and late afternoons) and I lay again in the hammock hoping to catch a whisper of breeze. Some nights, in accordance with a calendar I knew nothing of, the men of the village would come padding down the road, silently, all in a row. Sometimes I wondered who they were, these men who balked at walking next door, suddenly walking all the way to the mosque. They couldn’t see me lying up there in the dark even if they’d looked up but I could see them, swishing past in their white thobes.

It was like a dream sometimes, watching them. Not eerie, or happy or sad. I never really attached meaning to their soft parade; I didn’t revere them, nor did I scorn them, they just were, as was I. For me it was a sort of liminal space.

I won’t insult your intelligence nor tax my limited imagination in search of a way to string the story and recipe together. I’ll just say that this soup too, demands nothing and I’m sure you’ve made or eaten a version of it before. I used cicerchia, which is I gather, a type of wild chickpea. It’s flattish and a bit earthier tasting than the latter and sheds its skin more easily but you can use any bean you like, canned or otherwise and the vegetables are pretty flexible too. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, soup probably doesn’t sound too appealing after so many months of it so this is for my peeps downunder.

I’d love to hear your liminal experiences.

Cicerchia Soup

This made enough for a bowl each and one for seconds for the two of us. It could be vegetarian or even vegan if you omit the bacon/parmesan rind.

1 small onion, diced (or a leek, chopped in half and rinsed of dirt, then sliced thinly)

1/2 medium courgette, diced (you could use celery too, or both)

1 small carrot, diced

A slice of bacon, finely chopped (I used speck but you could also leave it out if you don’t eat meat- if you do, chucking a parmesan rind in while simmering can ramp up the umami factor)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

100 grams of dried beans, soaked and cooked or a can of beans, rinsed

A sprig of rosemary or thyme, or a sage leaf

A litre of chicken or vegetable stock, or water

Fry the bacon in a bit of olive oil until the fat is rendered and then sweat the onion, courgette, carrot and garlic over medium low heat with a bit of salt and pepper (less if you use bacon) until translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the liquid and herbs (and parmesan rind, if using) and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer for another 5 minutes, then add the beans and simmer for a further 10.

Ladle into shallow bowls, drizzle with a cold pressed olive-oil and serve with plenty of bread – and butter, if you’re so inclined (I am).

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Beebs March 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm

what a beautiful story. you are an amazing writer.

Vanessa March 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm

This was my favourite post of yours so far – beautifully written and the stories made me dream. I could feel myself there with you. As for liminality, I only have experiences of twilight and the time between morning and night to share when we’d get up early to start hikes in the mountains and without noticing, the rays of sunlight would gently touch the tops of the spectacular mountains around. Such great moments.

Lovely recipe too – thanks for sharing.

sasa March 30, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Aw shucks you guys, thanks…It means a lot coming from both of you whose writing I love to read!
And Vanessa, hopefully now it’s warmer there’ll be some early morning getting ups to hike again.

chiquita March 30, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Had to look up thobes.

As for liminal experiences – definitely the periods I spent in the hospital (of the *ahem* mental sort). All sorts of liminality going on in those places.

My dad used to make variations of soups like this quite often when we were kids, and as a result, I’ve grown up into someone who dislikes chunky soups. Zannen.

sasa March 30, 2010 at 7:54 pm

I’m sure I’d feel pretty liminal if I was doped up to the eyeballs…Hey, I *have* felt liminal whilst doped up to the eyeballs, that’s right ;P
No chunky soup? You could make and whizz, no problemo.

molly March 31, 2010 at 4:22 am

This is the most beautiful thing I have read in a very long time.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella March 31, 2010 at 4:57 am

Gorgeous story! I really enjoyed reading it and felt transported :)

sasa March 31, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Wow, I’m touched that all my peeps responded so positively, thank you! Cheesey but it makes my day ♡

@SIMC: “soft parade”…just that they were a parade of dudes walking softly, what song did you mean?

sallyismycat March 31, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Well there is an entire album called ‘The Soft Parade’, and a song titled ‘The Soft Parade’. Not the strongest Doors album but has its moments.

Marietta March 31, 2010 at 8:45 am

sara… its amazing how many things u have done in your life so far… beautiful story…

liminal experiences for me… probably the times when I haven’t had sleep for days -e.g. on holidays- and especially during early morning hours, with the strong greek sun making me dizzy and disoriented…

Hungry Sam March 31, 2010 at 9:15 am

That was awesome Sara, you made me feel all nostalgic and I wasn’t even there. Yep, its soup time down under, I have just finished making my second Gumbo for the cold season, many more to come. Miss you

sallyismycat March 31, 2010 at 12:22 pm

1. hell of a tan.
2. soft parade. Doors reference?
3. A bit unsure what liminality actually is, but if it’s a state of confusion about what the hell is happening to your life at the moment–i’m there right now!

Pedhakka April 1, 2010 at 5:34 am

First time here !!! I like your write ups !!

diva@ The Sugar Bar April 3, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Soup is always appealing to me, whether the weather is cold hot humid grey whatever. I think it’s because I’m oriental. Soup is a necessary side. :) And this looks yum. Definitely a lot earthier than using regular chickpeas. I want it. Happy Easter!

catty April 7, 2010 at 10:32 am

That is such a pretty story!!! I love it.. and my favourite bit (because I just know how to pick out the random stuff) is the kids eating uncooked noodles – we used to do that in Malaysia – it was called Mamee noodles and I still love it :)

sasa April 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Yes yes, that’s what they called them too! For some reason they couldn’t say “Saya” so they called me “San-ya” and they’d be like “San-ya, San-ya, hai gin Mamee mai?” (Will you give us some Mamee?)

tasteofbeirut May 27, 2010 at 6:38 am

You are one hell of a writer! I am so taken by your story I feel like I was living it myself! I can just imagine those children and the photo is just what was needed. Lovely story and great recipe. And I am learning new words through you, thanks!

sasa May 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

Joumana, thank you. I wish I could be as prolific as you though but I guess I’m a little too lazy ^^

H May 27, 2010 at 9:00 am

You write so beautifully. I felt as if I was there with you, talking with the children, watching the men parade past.

I remember as a kid on holidays at the beach I would try desperately to capture something that I could take home with me. I would sit on the jetty in the evenings with my eyes closed, listening to the waves and trying to memorise the feel of the waves lapping at the jetty. I can still close my eyes and lose myself in that moment, feeling the jetty sway and dip to the rock of the waves.

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