What is lablabi?
Lablabi, or Lablebi, is a Tunisian soup, traditionally eaten for breakfast. It is a hearty meal, containing chickpeas that are in a flavored thin soup, and it is served over pieces of stale bread and topped with a poached egg and a seasoned dressing. Typically, it is garnished with tuna and olives and it is commonly found in restaurants throughout Tunisia.
The variants of lablabi
As with many traditional recipes, lots of variations of lablabi can be found across Tunisia and further afield. In Assyrian cuisine, there is also a chickpea based dish called lablabi and in Iraq, lemon juice is mixed with the chickpeas to create a similar dish. The Turkish version, nohut corbasi, is very similar, but with the addition of lamb shank. In Tunisia, variations to the dish include the additions of cilantro, parsley, capers or scallions and a traditional, but rare version is made with cow trotters and is called hergma.
How to make lablabi
Lablabi is a very simple soup to make, don’t let the preparation of the dried chickpeas put you off! At its simplest form, lablabi is chickpea broth seasoned with spices. The garnishes are simple, yet complement the broth and add additional textures and flavors. Although traditionally eaten for breakfast, lablabi is now enjoyed throughout the day.
The key ingredients that give this soup its flavorful and spicy profile are dried chickpeas, cumin, caraway and harissa. It is important when making this dish to use dried chickpeas rather than canned, although it would be faster and more convenient. The simple broth that is created when cooking the chickpeas gives the dish its unique flavor. If you did decide to make the soup with canned chickpeas, it is best to replace the water with stock so that you get a well-seasoned dish.
Chickpea (sometimes known as garbanzo bean) is a legume that is thought to have originated from the Middle East. Sixty four percent of the world’s chickpeas were produced in India in 2016. Chickpeas are very nutritious with many vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. They are high in fiber and protein and are often used as a meat substitute to make dishes vegetarian or vegan. They have a nutty, buttery flavor to them that is easily incorporated into dishes.
Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste, made from roasted red peppers, serrano peppers and spices such as cumin, caraway and coriander. It is commonly used in dishes from Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco, and Tunisia is the world’s largest exporter. Harissa is fiery and garlicky and if overused in a dish, it can be overpowering. Cumin is a spice that is native to the Middle East, and its modern name originates from the Arabic word kammun. Cumin is a member of the parsley family and has a distinctive flavor and warm aroma. Caraway is native to North Africa, and the plant belongs to the carrot family. It has a pungent anise like flavor to it and is often used as a spice in breads.
Lablabi is a pescatarian meal, and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan by omitting the egg and tuna. It is a highly nutritious meal that is low in fat and calories and high in protein. It is a spicy and fiery dish, thanks to the harissa seasoning that is added to the chickpeas. If you don’t do spicy foods well, add a little less of the seasoning, but the heat is a key part of this hearty meal. The stale bread that is placed in the bottom of the bowl soaks up all of those wonderful flavors and will leave you feeling full and satisfied.
- 1 lb dried chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 slices bread (a little stale)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground caraway
- 2 tablespoons harissa
- 1 lemon
- 4 cloves garlic , pressed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 7 cups water
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 4 eggs (at room temperature)
- 8 oz. canned tuna (optional)
- Black and/or green olives (optional)
- Soak the chickpeas in a large amount of water with baking soda for 12 hours.
- After soaking, drain and rinse the chickpeas thoroughly.
- Cook the chickpeas and two pressed cloves of garlic in 4 cups of water, without salt, and over high heat for 15 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to a medium, cover and cook for 1 hour.
- The chickpeas should be covered with about 2 inches of water, so add water if necessary, during cooking, so that the chickpeas are always immersed in water. When cooking chickpeas, skim the white foam that may form.
- Cook until the chickpeas are tender.
- Add salt to the chickpeas 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
- In a salad bowl, add the lemon juice, olive oil, remaining garlic, harissa, caraway and half of the cumin. Add salt and mix well with a whisk. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, bring 3 cups of water with 3 tablespoons of vinegar to a boil.
- Break the eggs in small saucers, taking care not to break the yolk. Set aside.
- When the water comes to a boil, give it a whirl with a fork or a whisk, with a circular motion (like a whirlpool).
- Slide the eggs one at a time. The rotating movement allows the white to immediately wrap the yolk.
- Poach for 3 to 4 minutes while keeping the water simmering.
- Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water for 3 seconds to stop the cooking. Then, place on a cloth to drain.
- Season the poached eggs with salt about 2 minutes after cooking. Keep the eggs warm between two plates.
- In a deep dish or large bowl, place a few pieces of bread.
- Laden over chickpeas with a little of the broth.
- Place a poached egg on top, as well as tuna and olives.
- Add 2 tablespoons of seasoning.
- Sprinkle with remaining cumin. Enjoy very hot.