Lablābī is a popular breakfast stew made with chickpeas, broth, tomatoes, and various toppings such as capers, cumin, harīsa, coddled eggs, eaten in a manner very similar to the way Egyptians eat fūl or the Syrians tissaqiyya. The word lablābī is interesting. It is an archaic Arabic word that refers to the hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab L.), a bean native to India that is also known as the Egyptian or black bean. The word lablābī is not originally Arabic; it comes from the Turkish word for “roasted chickpea.” Lablābī is unknown among the Arabs of the Mashraq, the eastern Arab world. Paula Wolfert suggests it is a food of Tunisian Jews. (see Note)
Lablābī is a favorite winter morning breakfast for stevedores in Tunis. Throughout the city it is a morning offering in the small hole-in-the-wall cook shops that might also sell brīk and casse-croute, a spicy tuna, tomato, and olive sandwich. The actual soup is very simple and it’s depth of flavor derives from the garnishes you decide to use. As a tourist you will come home wanting lablābī in the morning; that’s how seductive it is.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Preparation Time: 40 minutes
4 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons hot harīsa (see Note there)
4 large garlic cloves, mashed
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Juice from 1 lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Optional garnishes, to taste:
Fresh lemon juice
Coarse sea salt
Seeded and finely chopped green bell pepper
Chopped very ripe tomatoes
Dollops of harīsa
Finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Finely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves
Leftover bread, any kind, rippedExtra-virgin olive oil
Place the chickpeas in a saucepan and cover with water. Boil until soft, about 30 minutes, then stir in the harīsa, garlic, cumin, and salt. Stir well, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Serve with more lemon juice, salt, and ground cumin to taste. Serve with any combination and any amount of optional garnishes, including more harīsa and olive oil.
This is far from a settled matter. Although Redhouse seems pretty clear on the Turkish, both the sources used by Dozy, Shaw’s Reizen door Barbarijen (Utrecht, 1773) and Beaussier, Dictionnaire pratique arabe-français (Algier, 1871) do not mention any Turkish etymology; Paula Wolfert, conversation with the author, December 10, 1993, and January 25, 1997, who reports that one of the folkloric explanations for the word is onomatopoeic, that the spiciness of the lablābī is such that it leads one to make the same noise as the ram in coitus.