Gjelina's Chickpea Stew

Travis Lett’s chickpea stew from his cookbook, Gjelina, is spiked with harissa and cooled by spiced yogurt in perfect proportions. The flavor is intensely layered making it a satisfying fall or winter meal. I also appreciate that this recipe's components can stand on their own if you don't want to make the stew. Ceci (cooked chickpeas) is great for chopped salad or hummus and the herbed yogurt pairs well with kebabs, roasted vegetables, or potatoes. As is always the case with Lett's dishes, this Chickpea Stew is on the money from a salt and acid standpoint.

Speaking of salt and acid, that's a hot topic these days for good reason. One (or both) of those ingredients is often to blame when a dish lacks spunk. As an experiment, a guest on the Bon Appétit podcast suggested incrementally salting a small portion of whatever you're cooking until it's too salty. This exercise helps a cook understand how to find the sweet spot. While butter may contribute to restaurant food being delicious, it’s more likely that chefs know how to push the boundary of salt and acid to pop the flavors.

Gjelina offers recipes for both the harissa and spiced yogurt. I opted to make the yogurt and use jarred harissa since there are excellent options available for the latter. Additional recipes from the cookbook are here.

Kale at Coleman Family Farms - Santa Monica Farmers Market

Original vs. Adapted

Other than using jarred harissa, I didn't change much about this recipe​​​.

Recipe Tips

    Ceci (Cooked Chickpeas)

    The first time I made this stew, my chickpeas weren't as creamy and tender as I would have liked. Since some of the chickpeas are puréed and added to the base, make sure the ceci is cooked through to the proper texture.

    Spiced Yogurt

    The cookbook suggests that the spiced yogurt should not be made too far in advance since it starts to break down. I found that the yogurt was perfectly acceptable for leftovers on day 2 but recommend making it a handful of hours before serving to be safe. This will allow the flavors to marry while maintaining the texture.

    Make Ahead

    I like recipes that can be broken up over several days and this chickpea stew falls into that category. It's a bonus when the main dish can be made the day before you eat since that offers flexibility and allows the flavors to meld. My schedule:

    • 2-3 days before dinner, make the ceci (cooked chickpeas).
    • 1 day before dinner, make the stew.
    • A handful of hours before dinner, make the spiced yogurt.

    Farmers | Artisans

    I make an effort to source my food from California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

    Carrots at Windrose Farm - Santa Monica Farmers Market


    • Spice Grinder - Grinding whole spices offers a big flavor payoff for relatively little effort. This grinder gets the job done and is easy to clean and store. It's also great for when a recipe needs a lot of freshly ground pepper.
    • Dutch Oven - This is my workhorse and pretty much the only enamel cast-iron pot that I use. From stews to chili and applesauce, I have been making everything in it for over 10 years.
    • Mini Food Processor - I suppose a regular size food processor will work if you make the full batch of spiced yogurt. I find the 4-cup capacity to be more effective with smaller quantities.
    • Small Pan - My small pan is nonstick but any small pan should work.

    My Favorite Cooking Tools spotlights the kitchen equipment I have owned and used for years.

    Ingredients (Recipe from Gjelina)


    I use Nancy Silverton's Ceci recipe. As mentioned above, the chickpeas can be cooked in advance and refrigerated. Important note is that you need to increase the garbanzo beans from 1 cup (8 ounces/227 grams) to 2 cups (16 ounces/455 grams). You can leave the rest of the ingredients the same other than adding a little more water.


    • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
    • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into half-moons 1/4-inch thick (1 1/2-1 3/4 cups after prep) Note: I cut my carrots into rounds and used more than three since they were small.
    • 1 medium/large yellow onion, coarsely chopped (2 cups after prep)
    • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced (generous tablespoon after prep)
    • Diamond kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 3 fresh thyme sprigs
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 1 cup dry white wine
    • 4 cups Homemade Vegetable Stock
    • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut into 2-inch wide strips (3 1/2 ounces after prep)
    • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
    • 1/3 cup Spiced Yogurt
    • 1/ 4 cup harissa

    Spiced Yogurt

    Note: This makes about 2 cups of spiced yogurt. The recipe is easy to cut in half if you don't expect to use that much.

    • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
    • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 cup Greek-style yogurt
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
    • Juice of half a lemon, to taste
    • Diamond kosher salt
    • 2 tablepoons water, or as needed



    As mentioned above, I use Nancy Silverton's Ceci recipe. The chickpeas can be cooked in advance and refrigerated. Important note is that you need to increase the garbanzo beans from 1 cup (8 ounces/227 grams) to 2 cups (16 ounces/455 grams). You can leave the rest of the ingredients the same other than adding a little more water.

    Spice Yogurt

    Make the spiced yogurt a few hours ahead.

    • In a small pan, toast the coriander seeds and cumin seeds over medium heat until fragrant (about 2-4 minutes). Transfer to a bowl to cool.
    • Once the spices are cool, grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
    • Combine the yogurt, ground spices, cilantro, and mint in a food processor. Pulse, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the herbs just start to break down. The process is quick and will result in the yogurt having a green tint.
    • Add the olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice and pulse until just incorporated. Season with salt, to taste.
    • To get the right texture, stir in a teaspoon of water at a time until it's thick but can still be drizzled. Don't let the yogurt become watery.
    • Cover and refrigerate.

    Mise en Place

    The following steps are all pretty close together and you're cooking over medium-high heat so it's best to have all of the ingredients prepared and at hand.


    • Place a small pan over medium-low heat and add the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds. Once fragrant (about 3-5 minutes), remove and set aside to cool.
    • Once the spices are cool, grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
    • In a Dutch oven or similar soup pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add the onions, carrots, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook until the vegetables start to soften (about 5-7 minutes).
    • Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about a minute).
    • Add the ground spices and cook until "quite fragrant" per the cookbook (about 3 minutes).
    • Add the tomato paste and cook until it begins to darken, stirring constantly (about 3 minutes).
    • Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up all the bits and stirring frequently to constantly. Reduce the wine by 3/4 (about 2 1/2-3 minutes).
    • Remove the bay leaf and add the stock, bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and simmer for about 3 minutes.
    • Taste the mixture and gently adjust the salt and pepper.
    • Turn the heat off. Carefully transfer 1 cup of the hot soup base to a blender. Add 2 cups of the cooked chickpeas (ceci) to the blender. Process until smooth. Note: Really make sure it's smooth otherwise there will be a slightly grainy texture. Not the end of the world, but just in case you care about that sort of thing.
    • Return the purée to the pot, bring to a simmer, then add the kale. Cook until the kale is tender.
    • Add the rest of the chickpeas, stir to combine, and simmer for 5 minutes. Note: My carrots still had more tooth than I prefer so I simmered for 10 minutes.
    • Season with salt (to taste) and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.
    • Turn the heat off and set aside to cool for 15-20 minutes if serving immediately.
    • At this point, you can refrigerate the stew and refrigerate it if you wish. Don't add the vinegar, yogurt, or harissa.


    • Add 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar to the pot and gently stir, then ladle the soup into serving bowls.
    • Drizzle each serving with the yogurt and harissa.

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