Our Alpine community was inundated by a blizzard this January. Nine atmospheric rivers flowed through the eastern Sierra, dumping about 8’ of snow over only a few days. Roads were closed, driveways and walkways were heaped too high to clear before more snow fell. During a half-day lull in the seemingly ceaseless storms, the county plowed a single lane on our road, we managed to shovel a pathway from our back door to the garage, and then run the snow blower up and down the driveway. This created a brief escape route from our mountain retreat so we could return to business in LA.
When we came back a couple of weeks later, we found our roof loaded with dangerously high piles of snow, huge icicles that could cause bodily damage should they fall when someone walked under, and all paths in need of hours of shoveling. Then it snowed eight more inches. But, the sun came out on our second morning, and the neighborhood became a shoveling party. Everyone was outside enjoying the glittering day while they worked on clearing paths and driveways, visited back and forth for much needed breaks, shared equipment and expertise, and watched kids sledding down hills. We all spend time here because we share a love of the mountains, including the challenges nature throws our way. Steve and I hadn’t experienced such a strong feeling of community before.
And it wasn’t all work. You may think I’m crazy, but I discovered I truly enjoy shoveling snow. It’s great full body exercise that not only accomplishes a necessary task, it’s done outside breathing the clean, crisp air, while enjoying the expansive views of sparkling white mountains dotted with dark green pines, accompanied by neighborly chats about what adventure to go on later. And for us, that meant snowshoeing up trails covered with fluffy, light virgin snow in time to wonder at the pink-blue-lavender sky that accompanies dusk in the winter.
When the sun disappeared, temperatures plummeted from highs in the 20s to single digit lows. We came inside exhausted and in need of easy, warming nourishment, and thus this soup was created on the spur of the moment, to satisfy big appetites. All the ingredients for this recipe are winter essentials at our cabin, wholesome items with a long shelf life—canned chickpeas, onions, cabbage, butternut squash, and a jar of Harissa sauce. Harissa, a pungent, spicy, ever so slightly sweet Moroccan red pepper sauce, brings great depth of flavor to this warming soup. I keep a jar on hand to add interest to soups, stews, fried eggs, to stir into mayo for a quick vegetable dip, or for an instant guacamole.
When it snows, or rains, or a cold wind blows, take 30 minutes to prepare this soup. The enticing aroma escaping from the simmering pot will start to warm you up even before you sit down to eat. It’s sure to create a community around your table.
Chickpea, Butternut Squash and Harissa Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Harissa sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1½ teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground or whole seed
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 15.5 oz cans reduced sodium chickpeas, with liquid
- 3½ cups (or more) water
- 1½ cups ¾-inch cubes peeled butternut squash (from 1 small squash, or 7-8 oz purchased squash cubes)
- ¼ white cabbage, cut into ¾" pieces (about 2 cups)
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, 2-3 tablespoons harissa, (less if the harissa is very spicy, more if it's mild, less if you don't enjoy a spicy soup, more if you do; it's best to start with a smaller quantity and then add more to taste later, I started with 2 tablespoons of Mina Harissa, but added another 1 tablespoon before serving), tomato paste and 1½ teaspoons salt. Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and cinnamon and stir until they release their enticing aroma, about 30 seconds.
- Add the chickpeas with their liquid (the liquid in canned beans is very nutritious and helps thicken the soup, it's quite salty in regular beans, so a good reason to choose low-sodium chickpeas), and 3½ cups water (to get every bit of goodness from the canned beans, I add the water to the bean cans and swirl, this also rinses out the cans before tossing them). Bring the soup to a boil. Stir in the squash and return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the soup uncovered until the squash is almost cooked, for about 12 minutes.
- Add the cabbage to the soup and simmer until both the cabbage and squash are soft but still hold their shapes about 3 minutes longer, adding more water if the soup needs more liquid.
- Taste the soup and add more salt and/or harissa if desired. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with cilantro and enjoy. (This soup can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Bring to a simmer before serving, thinning with more water if desired. It is even better on the second and third days.)