A few weeks ago, COVID finally got me, and making myself a simple chicken noodle soup made me feel so nourished, even as I felt terrible. So when a friend told me she had also gotten COVID, feeling fatigued with a cough, I knew I had to make something and bring it over. But my friend is vegetarian, so chicken soup was out. What to make? Inspiration struck in the form of chickPEA noodle soup.
I didn't have any intention of posting this recipe, but my friend thought it was so good she demanded I share, especially since vegetarian and vegan-friendly alternatives to chicken soup are often so few and far between. It is incredibly easy and quick to make, so even if you don't have anyone to cook for you, you can tackle this recipe. If you are feeling under the weather, this will perk you right up. To be honest, in many ways, I thought it was better than traditional chicken noodle soup, and it will probably go in regular rotation, especially when I'm not feeling well.
Vegan Chickpea Noodle Soup
This soup relies heavily on the quality of your vegetable stock. I used Better Than Bouillon refrigerated organic vegetable bouillon doctored with some herbs and turmeric for color and flavor and it turned out lovely. It also scales up nicely and frankly, the bouillon is the most expensive ingredient! Everything else is eminently affordable. If you're feeding a crowd or want to double the recipe for a week of lunches or to freeze, you can. It's also extremely quick. The whole thing, including chopping vegetables, probably took about 30 minutes, start to finish. Which is nice when you're feeling under the weather or you need some comfort food in a hurry.
2 tablespoons fat (I used 1 each olive oil and salted butter)
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup minced celery
1 small onion, minced (about 1/2 a cup)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 can chickpeas
4-5 cups water
4-5 teaspoons bouillon (less if you like a thinner, less salty broth, substitute 1 bouillon cube per teaspoon)
a few generous shakes of ground turmeric
a shake or two of dried thyme
a pinch of dried marjoram
a pinch of ground pepper
1 bay leaf
a small handful (about the size of a nickel) of short spaghetti
In a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the carrots, celery, and onion in the fat until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and stir well. Let it keep cooking while you drain, but do not rinse, a can of chickpeas. Add the chickpeas and water to the pot, then add the bouillon and herbs and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high, and let cook until the vegetables and chickpeas are tender, 5-10 minutes. Then add the spaghetti and simmer/boil until the spaghetti is tender. Serve hot with plenty of fresh bread and butter, or biscuits (my friend felt well enough to make some garlic cheddar biscuits. I was jealous), or Saltines, or any other comforting carb you prefer.
The vegetable bouillon I used does have tomato in it, so discerning palates will be able to detect a hint of tomato in the broth, but it's not particularly noticeable. If you are using boxed vegetable broth, add a tablespoon of soy sauce (an ingredient in the bouillon) or miso paste for some extra umami flavor and richness.
The tender chickpeas really do mimic the flavor and texture of chicken, and the broth is almost identical. Don't skimp on the fat - you want some of that golden goodness floating on top. But my husband commented that it tasted less greasy than chicken noodle soup, and that he preferred this lighter version. From a distance, it even looks like chicken noodle soup.
Keep this recipe in your back pocket when you are in need of some comforting. It's easy, inexpensive, and healthy. Just the ticket to get you feeling better. You could also easily riff this soup to substitute potatoes or rice for a gluten-free alternative to the pasta, add other vegetables like frozen peas and/or corn, and add cream or milk for a creamier broth. If you like your soup brothier, add more water and more bouillon. If you don't have chickpeas and want to substitute another type of legume like cannellini beans, I recommend adding them after the pasta is done cooking, otherwise you'll end up with beautiful, golden, bean mush. Chickpeas are a little sturdier and I find they often need extra cooking to soften them up a bit, but cannellini beans will start to disintegrate after a few minutes of boiling.
I hope you haven't been sick recently, but this new extra-contagious variant is going around, and most of us have spent the last two years avoiding getting regular colds and the flu, so our immune systems aren't quite as up to the challenge as they might usually be. The season of spring also means pollen, leading to irritated throats and sinuses for some of you. This soup will make you feel better, whatever ails you. Stay healthy, dear reader.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.