The colour yellow. Not a colour I wear very often, except for the odd raincoat, but a colour that is all around me at the moment in the form of daffodils and wattle. It is a cheering colour, especially when it acts as the harbinger of warmer weather.
Yellow food, however, I’ve always been a little more wary of. Some years ago my sister flippantly commented that it was always the yellow food group you ate at the football. Pies, chips, potato cakes and beer. I remember her adding pastries and doughnuts to this mix, and it has become a bit of a family joke now – whenever I confess to eating the “wrong” things, she will ask if they were all yellow.
But I’ve had a bit of time to do some research over the past six months and some of the things I have learnt have revolutionised the way I feel about some yellow foods. I have been looking at foods that are good at reducing anxiety, and it often comes hand in hand with ingredients that are good for lowering inflammation. So it came as no surprise to me that this version of a Berber soup is a powerhouse of goodness, combining turmeric, garlic, chickpeas and a good chicken stock/broth. Turmeric is the obvious yellow, but saffron and chickpeas also sneak into the group. Not only is the combination of these ingredients good for you physically and mentally, but they are also emotionally bolstering if you believe in the healing powers of chicken soup.
Chorba is the lighter of two soups famous in the Berber repertoire. Harira has a greater selection of spices, chickpeas and lentils, broken pasta and a small amount of chicken or meat. It is also thickened with a flour and water solution, making it a much heartier meal. In spring, I find the lighter chorba more appropriate, but it’s still warming enough to cope with spring’s temperature fluctuations. Of course it is also possible to make this a vegetarian dish, using vegetable stock and a variety of vegetables that you can pre-roast in turmeric as well. Pumpkin, carrot and sweet potato spring to mind.
Inspiration for this soup recipe has come from reading the works of Nargisse Benkabbou, Josh Katz and Yotam Ottolenghi. The food traditions of northern Africa are complex and detailed, telling the stories of empires won and lost. Yet at times the recipes are disarmingly simple while still delivering very complex results.
I now have a new go-to yellow food. It makes me feel less anxious, it’s very good for me, it’s not as naughty as scoffing a potato cake and it warms me to the core like those first warm sunny days of spring.
1kg chicken wings
3 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt or more to taste
½ tsp paprika
tiny pinch cayenne pepper
1.5 litres chicken stock
370g tin of crushed tomatoes
pinch saffron threads
200g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
500g Nicola potatoes, in 1cm dice
100g spaghetti, broken into 3cm-long pieces
3 tbsp chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Dust the chicken wings in two teaspoons of the turmeric and drizzle with one tablespoon of the oil. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the rest of the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the onions and the garlic. Cook, stirring often to soften the onions.
When the onions are soft and slightly coloured, add the rest of the turmeric, salt, paprika and cayenne pepper. Stir through over medium heat.
Add the chicken stock, tomatoes and saffron, then add the chickpeas and potatoes and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes or until the chickpeas are tender.
At this point, place the chicken wings in the oven and roast for 10 minutes or until cooked.
Add the broken spaghetti pieces to the soup, return to a light boil and cook for a further eight to 10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
To serve, fill bowls with soup, finish with the roasted chicken wings and a generous sprinkle of parsley. Serve warm with more parsley.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 26, 2020 as "Good yellows".
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