The original recipe
for slow and low-cooked chickpea vegetarian stew
from the greek cycladic island of Sifnos
If you love chickpeas and want the best for your health, then…you must buy a clay pot without delay, in order to create this delicious meal : baked chickpeas from Sifnos, which is not only nutritional but also super tasty in its simplicity.
I was honestly surprised by just how simple this recipe is! This particular variation of baked chickpeas requires three things: a special cooking pot, ‘skepastaria’, which the inhabitants of Sifnos use especially for this dish (a clay pot will do just as well), organic chickpeas and onions, lots of onions.
No aromatic herbs are used in the traditional recipe (like bay leaves, rosemary or oregano), but only olive oil and lemon juice. A little salt and pepper is added at the end.
In the older days, this dish became famous because all the village clay pots were placed in the neighbourhood wood oven together from the previous night, a Saturday, and because the chickpeas baked together ‘all night long’, this gave the food its sweetness (of course, the onions added their own sweetness through this slow cooking process).
I initially cooked it the way I was told by the inhabitants of Sifnos but, the last time I made this dish, I couldn’t resist, and added dried rosemary.
I prefer the chickpeas this way since I have no village, neither a local wood oven, nor the neighbours to lend me some of their chickpeas’ tastiness.
The next day, rinse them well, rubbing them between your palms so as to discard most of their skins, and let them drain in a sieve.
Sprinkle one teaspoon of baking soda over the chickpeas, leave for 30 minutes and then rinse them well.
Cut 8 small red onions or 4 large ones in half and then into very thin slices. Separate the slices.
Drizzle some olive oil in the clay pot with a heavy lid (your dutch oven will do too), add the chickpeas and the onions, and top up with a bit more oil.
Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary over the food or a couple of bay leaves.
Add enough water to cover the chickpeas and about 2-3 extra fingers’ width on top of that. Don’t be scared of adding too much water when you begin baking.
Cover the clay pot and place it in the middle of your oven without pre-heating it, clay pot and oven should start heating up together.
Set your oven at 200C/392F.
Let the chickpeas cook for at least 60-90 minutes, then take the lid off, test for salt and lower the heat to 180C/356F.
Bake for another 1-2 hours minimum. (You can also choose to bake this dish like the Sifnos people do , that is overnight, by setting your oven at 120 degrees C and baking it through the night, low and slow.)
Don’t open the oven door often, at most a couple of times, once to season the dish and another to determine if the chickpeas are cooked thoroughly and the sauce has thickened.
The inhabitants of Sifnos add a good amount of lemon juice only at the end (if added from the start the chickpeas will harden), as well as plenty of extra virgin olive oil.
This dish is an ode to simplicity and deliciousness. Choose high quality ingredients and, on Saturday night, begin by soaking your chickpeas. This dish is always eaten on a Sunday!
*revithia in greek means chickpeas.