Merguez meatball soup with chickpeas & kale



From Joshua Westlund

[Ed: The recipe for this complex, spicy soup is, by a very unofficial tally, the most sought-after recipe in the brief history of Soup and Bread. People have been emailing me about it regularly–and pleadingly–since Joshua dished it up on February 18. Now, finally, here it is! Enjoy.]

For the soup:

16 cups homemade chicken stock or “cheater’s stock”*
8 cloves garlic
4 dried ancho chiles
4 dried pasilla chiles
2 dried chipotle chiles
2-4 dried chiles de arbol
2 red bell peppers
3 large cans chickpeas (4 or so if you’re using the small ones)
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
2-3 bunches cavalo nero / dinosaur kale
Cumin and pimenton de la vera to taste

This recipe, like any other asking for chicken stock, is much better w/ homemade stock. I have my own “cheat” below.

1. Chop and saute the garlic. Add stock. Simmer.

2. Heat an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat; place the ancho and pasilla peppers on the griddle in a single layer. Cook the chilies 1 to 3 minutes until the color changes slightly (but do not burn) and the peppers become fragrant (but not to the point of emitting a harsh aroma), pressing them down with a spatula and turning over occasionally. Remove peppers and let them cool. Break open and remove seeds and stems. You may wish to wear rubber gloves when doing this. Soak peppers in hot water in a bowl for 20 minutes or so.

3. Char the red bell peppers on the stovetop. Put charred peppers in a paper bag to cool. Scrape off charred flesh, then cut open and seed the peppers.

4. Add 1 cup of chile-soaking water, toasted chiles, chipotles, chiles de arbol, roasted red bell peppers, and half garlic to a blender and puree. Add to soup.

5. Chop the onion and remaining garlic. Sautee and add to soup.

6. Stem and chop the kale. Saute w/ olive oil. If planning to simmer the soup for a while, you could add the kale raw to the stock and allow it to cook in the pot.

7. Crush tomatoes w/ your hands and add to soup.

8. Make meatballs (recipe below) and add to soup.

9. Test for flavor and add salt, pepper, cumin, & Spanish paprika as needed. Shouldn’t need much at this point besides salt, though.

10. Simmer for an hour or more if you like, then add the kale and chickpeas.


For the meatballs:

1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground veal
2 red peppers
1 tbsp chile flakes (more if you like heat)
1 tbsp chipotle flakes (more if you like heat)
Salt & pepper to taste
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp pimenton de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika, preferably the “hot” kind)
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs

Char the red peppers on the stovetop. Put charred peppers in a paper bag to cool. Scrape off charred flesh, then cut open and seed the peppers. Add peppers and garlic to a blender and puree. Add puree to meat and remaining spices and mix by hand until combined. Add egg and bread crumbs.

Use a 1 tbsp measuring spoon to form meatballs. At this point in time, it is best to fry up a small patty of the meatball mixture to check for proper seasoning. Adjust seasonings if needed to your liking.

Fry the meatballs in oil over medium-low heat. They generally take 8-12 minutes to cook thoroughly. Or bake in an oven at 350 on a baking sheet for 20 min or so. Add to the soup.

Cheater’s Stock
Mark Bittman hates premade broths and stocks, for good reason. Rather than use premade broths, Mark recommends the following: “Simmer a carrot, a celery stalk and half an onion in a couple of cups of water for 10 minutes and you’re better off; if you have any chicken scraps, even a half-hour of cooking with those same vegetables will give you something 10 times better than any canned stock.”

My cheat involves using store-bought stock (low-sodium Whole Foods store brand) and chicken necks.

Chop an onion, a few carrots and a few stalks of celery and sauté in olive oil. Remove onion. Add 2-4 lbs chicken pieces; I use chicken necks because they’re cheap and you’re going to strain and discard the meat anyway. Saute for 4-5 minutes. Add 4 boxes low-sodium store-bought chicken broth. Simmer while preparing the other parts of the soup (roasted chile mixture, meatballs, etc.) – preferably an hour or two but 45 minutes will still add a decent amount of flavor. Don’t forget to strain and discard the chicken, mushy veggies and BONES.


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