Breakfast on Other Planets

SigourneyI’ve written elsewhere about the difficulties I have with breakfast. Simply put, food before 11am makes me nauseous. There have been exceptions to this. The buffet at the International Garden Hotel in Narita, Japan, was so exciting I grazed for two whole hours. Miso soup is just good at any time of day. And I am fond of cold pizza, or, when in Thailand or China, congee with the works. Roald Dahl recommends half a papaya melon with a whole lime squeezed over it, and so do I.

Perhaps I do like breakfast. I just don’t like normal things for breakfast.

Today, I remembered a non-normal thing for breakfast I first made six years ago and then forgot about: lablabi, a kind of chicken soup with chickpeas and spices, which I read about in The Age (Australia’s only serious newspaper). The author described people lining up to consume bowls of this dish first thing in the morning at Moroccan markets. I duly made it, and it was indeed fine. I even used real homemade chicken stock, which improves anything.

The problem is, upon consulting that oracle of all truth, wikipedia, I learned that lablabi is not Moroccan. It’s not even from an adjacent country. It’s Tunisian, and it isn’t served for breakfast, but for dinner. There are two possible explanations for this. Either Moroccans like to eat Tunisian dinner dishes for breakfast, or the author was bullshitting, as food writers do. Can someone who has actually visited either of these two countries give me a ruling on this?

In the meantime, this is a kickass breakfast.

Lablabi

(for two)

3 cups chicken stock (homemade is ideal)

1 can of chickpeas

1 Tb harissa (a Tunisian chili paste, available as a powder in the West)

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt

Two large slices of sourdough bread

1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley

1/3 cup freshly chopped cilantro

1 Tb chopped capers (absolutely essential)

2 soft-boiled eggs

Olive oil (fine and interesting quality, please)

Simmer stock, chickpeas, harissa, cumin, and salt for 15 minutes. Tear up the bread into chunks. Place the bread, the herbs, and the capers into two soup bowls.

herbs and bread

So hungry already.

Scoop an egg from its shell into each bowl, then ladle soup over and drizzle with olive oil.

lablabi

It occurs to me that if you substituted vegetable stock, you would have my first vegetarian recipe! Unless you consider eggs to be meat, that is. Hmm.

6 comments to Breakfast on Other Planets

  • WarPig

    Moroccans do have soup for brekky, but usually bissara, which is a very thick split pea soup cut with olive oil and possibly some chicken stock. Of course, crusty bread goes with it. It is thicker than peas porridge (in the pot, nine days old), hence cutting it with olive oil and the bread to help get it down.

    Tunisians eat a chicken and chickpea soup for brekky. Lablabi or leblebi sounds right, phonetically, as to what it was called. It can have chicken or lamb in it as well, but the best is made with pigeon, or rather it looked like pigeon. When served in Tunisia, lablabi is accompanied by a wide variety of accompaniments/garnishes. Some I remember are more of the harissa (chili paste), capers, sliced turnip (pickled and raw), olive oil, sliced scallions, of course cumin and cilantro and also candied lemon slices. Yeah, I know, but their stomachs are used to different foods than ours. I used extra harissa and candied lemon slices as they are so far apart and really wake up the palette.

    PS: In Tunisia there is definitely a strong garlic taste in their leblebi. I didn’t see you mention garlic in your recipe.

    Incidentally, you’ll find in northern Africa and through to the middle east, soups or stews for breakfast is quite common, as is couscous. Moroccans live on couscous with stuff thrown in. Tuna, chicken, lamb, pigeon, everything but pork, naturally. My favorite Moroccan dish is djej emshmel, chicken roasted with olives and lemon in a clay pot and served with chicken-stock cooked couscous with fresh lemon juice squirted over the couscous at serving. It is even better than the lamb dishes for which Morocco is also well-known. Tender as butter and melts in your mouth if done correctly.

  • By candied lemon do you mean preserved lemons? As in preserved in salt? Or actually candied in sugar?

    I think I’ll try that djej emshmel, if I can find a recipe. I’ve been doing quite a bit of clay pot cooking recently.

    Thanks for the ruling!

  • WarPig

    Sugared, although now you mention it, I do believe they also had the salted lemons as well. Been a few years. The turnips were also pretty good. Pickled in a brine that was salty, yet had delicate but exotic tasting herbs as well. Nothing like the pickled beets in the US, thankfully.

    The clay pot for the emshmel is a two-piece and the knob on the lid is scary hot. When I was served it had the lid on it. The woman picked up the lid with her bare hand to peek inside as she placed it before me. So I went to pick it up so I could eat. She must have asbestos fingers as I got scorched. I picked it up and I-put-it-right-back-down-in-an-instant. Then I dipped my finger and thumb in the bowl of lemon juice and water at the table to clean fingers.

    The women giggled.

    I’d advise the clay pot, as I’ve tried it in a Le Cruset dutch oven and it wasn’t the same. I’ll scout around, and if I find a recipe I’ll post it here. I think one of my GI buddies, whom I trained when he was young, is serving or recently served as military attache or something in Morocco.

  • WarPig

    I struck out with my old bud, he’s not as interested as I am in cooking, but I found this film clip on the internet and it looks close to what they did in Morocco, with the exception that their tangine was finished (or kept hot) in the oven after the sauce was thickened (hence my burnt fingers), and the chicken was cut up. In Morocco they used the preserved lemons. If you do that, adjust the salt significantly as the lemons will be salty. Also, you can cut up the chicken into 8 pieces (as they did) instead of leaving it whole. I think that is just a personal choice.

    Ginger and chicken go so well together. OBTW, if your green olives are a bit too bitter, blanch them in boiling water for a minute or so, rinse in ice water then taste. Blanching usually takes most of the bitter out of them, but sometimes it takes longer, depending on the olive.

    I like my emshmel with couscous and chick peas and crusty French bread. Although I like the taste of the olives in the chicken and sauce, I don’t eat the olives themselves as the olives sold here taste quite a bit different from Moroccan olives.

    I have also seen Moroccans put a bit of butter in the sauce after thickening. Just normal variations house to house and eatery to eatery.

    Since American chickens tend to be rather tasteless compared to free-range birds in North Africa, I’d use stock instead of plain water and I’d add some extra pepper.

  • Made it last night, in a clay pot. It was a hit! One of the better tagines I’ve made.

  • Have been to Japan 6 times. My favorite is udon (kakke) for breakfast. Hurray soup for breakfast!!