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.
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).