Perhaps it is my straitened circumstances after losing my job when my longtime food editing gig ended in December. Perhaps it is the exorbitant prices I am paying for only half-decent produce while I’m in the United States. ($3 a pound for leeks? That’s FOUR TIMES the price I pay in Brittany!) Perhaps it is my increasing inability to throw anything away. (Case in point: the yanked-up mint plant that was choking my parsley that got “relocated” to a spot in the alley behind the trash cans rather than going into the trash cans…) Whatever the reason, I’m on a #NoWasteKitchen campaign to use up all the food flotsam that ends up in the back corners of my pantry and fridge.
And I’ve been positively gobsmacked by the results. I’m finding inspiration from wrinkly red peppers, stringy celery bottoms and overripe cheese. Turning them into something edible—delicious, even—has become a fun weekly challenge. And I’m eating well without spending a fortune on “more” ingredients.
Red Pepper Soup with Crispy Chickpeas
A recent excavation of my fridge crisper drawers yielded one wrinkly red bell pepper and a half a fennel bulb that was browning slightly on the cut edge. Clearly, these two couldn’t go into a salad (where the imperfections would be unappetizing, to say the least), so I turned them into a soup with the last of an open can of tomato paste. I gave myself extra #NoWasteKitchen bonus points for flavoring with ras el hanout—a Moroccan spice blend that only gets pulled out when I make couscous (which is about once a year). A curry or chili powder would also have worked well.
A can of chickpeas got turned into a spicy, crunchy garnish for the soup (and for the week’s salads). My one regret? That I poured the canned chickpea liquid down the drain and didn’t save it as “aquafaba” for an egg white substitution. My #NoWasteKitchen reflexes will be better next time.
1 large red bell pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ medium onion, diced (1/2 cup)
½ large fennel bulb, diced (1 cup)
2 Tbs. tomato paste
½ ras el hanout or other spice blend
½ tsp. salt
2 ½ cups water
squeeze of lemon juice, optional
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. ras el hanout
1/8 to ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ to ½ tsp. salt
1. To make soup: Roast the bell pepper under the broiler or over an open gas flame until it is blackened all over. Set on a plate, cover with a bowl, and let it steam under the bowl as it cools to help loosen the skin. Once cool, rub the skin off the pepper, remove the stem and scrape out the seeds, and cut the flesh into medium-size pieces.
2. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel, and sauté 7 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are softened and browned. Stir in the tomato paste, ras el hanout, and salt, and cook, stirring, 30 seconds, or until tomato paste begins to darken. Add 2 ½ cups water, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.
3. Remove the soup from the heat, and blend with an immersion blender or in a blender or food processor until smooth. Adjust seasonings and add more water to achieve desired consistency.
4. To make crispy chickpeas: Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Toss the chickpeas with the oil and spices in a bowl. Spread the chickpeas on a baking sheet, and roast 30 minutes, or until browned and crisp. Makes 3 cups
5. Serve the soup sprinkled with chickpeas.