Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Soup

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and deveined
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 bunch cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes, with their liquid
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch of saffron threads (if we have it)
vegetable stock
1 cup dried lentils (I like to use a mix of green, brown, red or yellow),
4 sprigs cilantro
4 sprigs parsley
2 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
For the charmoula
mix 4 tablespoons of the oil, cumin, garlic, jalapeños, and lemon juice in a food processor to make a purée. Pick cilantro leaves from their stems and add to food processor along with zest and salt and pepper. Pulse mixture a couple of times, scraping it down from the side of the bowl in between pulses. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil if needed. The mixture should resemble a rustic pesto. Place in tightly closed container and refrigerate for up to two days.
For the soup
heat oil in a 4-quart pot with over medium heat. Add fennel and gently cooking for a couple of minutes while the fennel releases its natural juices. Add red and white onions and cook until soft and translucent, stirring mixture from time to time, about 12 minutes. Add tomatoes with their liquid and increase heat to high until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic and saffron, if using, and let them infuse the mixture with their flavors for a few more minutes.

Add broth, lentils, cilantro and parsley sprigs, and bay leaves and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add sugar and salt and pepper, stirring the mixture a couple of times. Cover pot and let simmer for about 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Add chickpeas and cook, uncovered, for another 5 to 7 minutes until heated through. Mix well and season again with salt and pepper. Remove and discard bay leaves, cilantro, and parsley. Serve soup hot, with 1 tablespoon of the reserved charmoula on top.

For a thicker soup, remove about 1 cup of the cooked lentils and chickpeas from the soup and process them in blender, adding some extra liquid if needed. Add the blended mixture back to the soup. For a thinner soup, add extra vegetable Stock.

Serves: 12 to 15