On Saturday evenings, women on Sifnos and other Cycladic islands bring to the communal bakery their specially marked clay casseroles filled with soaked chickpeas that have been doused in fruity olive oil and seasoned with oregano or bay leaves. Covered, and often sealed with a piece of dough, the casseroles are set in the wood-burning oven, where they cook slowly all night. On Sunday morning, as the women return to their homes from church, they collect the pots and serve the tender, fragrant chickpeas for lunch, accompanied by olives and/or salted sardines and crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices. This recipe is my adaptation of the chickpeas KalomiraVrondamiti serves at her tavern, on the picturesque Vourkari marina, in Kea.
2 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (optional, see note)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1–2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper, or pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1 1/2 cups Chicken or vegetable stock, or more as needed
1 orange, preferably organic, quartered and seeded (not peeled)
1 cup coarsely chopped celery, preferably Mediterranean leaf-celery (wild celery)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek, for drizzling
Freshly ground black pepper
Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of water, stirring in the baking soda, if using. Drain and rinse well under running water.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas and 1 teaspoon salt and toss well.
In a medium flameproof casserole, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat for 4 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the chickpeas and Aleppo pepper or pepper flakes, then add the stock or water, the orange and celery. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and cover the dish with a double layer of aluminum foil and the lid.
Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F place the casserole in the oven and cook for 6 hours, or until the chickpeas are very tender. Add mustard and lemon juice, taste and adjust the seasonings, adding black pepper to taste. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: Baking soda is always used in Greece to help tenderize the chickpeas.