When I was a child growing up in the socialistic Czechoslovakia, there were no fresh vegetables available during December, January and February. Our fields and gardens were covered in snow and the temperatures stayed below zero for the better part of winter.
There were no imported or indoor-grown vegetables in the winter months either. Instead, we had to rely on the garden produce from the November harvest, which would be stored in cold, dark cellars to survive until spring.
Typical ingredients for Slovak meatless soups in winter included sauerkraut (fermented white cabbage) and potatoes, or root vegetables like carrots, parsley, celery, onions and garlic. The last one was considered a necessity, as our ancestors used garlic to fight evil spirits, as well as bacteria.
My family soups had to have a lot of paprika in them, or they wouldn’t get my dad’s approval. He had grown up in a small village on the Slovak-Hungarian border and his penchant for paprika was strong.
Chickpea Soup with Root Vegetables
- 250 g chickpeas (soaked overnight)
- 3 carrots
- 2 parsley sticks
- medium size celery root (about 200 g)
- 3 potatoes
- water as needed
- 2 teaspoons marjoram
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- salt and black pepper to taste
For the roux:
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 medium size onion
- 4 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon fine flour
- Rinse the chickpeas in a sieve or a colander under running water. Soak them overnight in a bowl filled with cold water. Bear in mind that the chickpeas will expand to double their volume, so choose the bowl accordingly and use enough water to allow for their growth.
- Drain the chickpeas and rinse them again before cooking. Transfer into a large cooking pot and fill up with twice as much water as is the volume of the chickpeas. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat to let simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and rinse the root vegetables. Slice the carrots and chop the parsley. Dice the potatoes. Grate the celery root but keep it and the potatoes covered to prevent browning.
- When the chickpeas are half tender, gradually add to them the parsley, the carrots and the potatoes. Bring to a simmer, season with the salt, ground black pepper and marjoram. Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, chop the onion and crush the garlic. Pour the oil in a saucepan or a small pot and place over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion and roast until lightly brown, stirring now and then. Thrown in the garlic, spoon in the flour and roast together for another 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Put aside.
- Add the grated celery to the simmering chickpeas and vegetables. Cook together for 10 minutes, then stir in the paprika.
- To finish the soup, pour a cup of cold water to the roux (roasted onion, garlic and flour), stir and transfer to the chickpeas. Bring the soup to the boil again, stir well and turn off the heat. Serve hot in bowls.
The recipe yields enough soup to feed a large family, or to last for at least two days. This is exactly what my working mum did to save time, as well as keep our bellies full and happy.