1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup diced prosciutto or other cured ham (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups bouillon
3/4 cup barley
1/4 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste (see note #1, below)
3 15-ounce cans chick peas or 4 cups of cooked chickpeas (see note #2)
Juice of one lemon
Flat Italian parsley, chopped
Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot and stir in the prosciutto (if using), cut into 1/4″ dice, and let it fry for a few minutes. Stir in the onions, celery, red bell pepper and garlic, and cook over high heat for about five minutes; stir often and do not let them burn. When the vegetables are softened, add the bouillon, barley and harissa. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for one hour or until the barley is soft. Add the chickpeas and cook 15 minutes more. Stir in the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning to your taste. Use a hand blender briefly, or mash with a large spoon, to thicken the soup a little but do not make it smooth (most of the chickpeas should still be whole.) Serve with any or all of the optional garnishes.
Note #1: Harissa is HOT; start with a little and then taste after the barley has cooked to see if you want more. Make your own harissa from my recipe, or you can buy it in middle eastern markets or some supermarkets. If you prefer a milder version, use 1 teaspoon ground cumin and a small pinch of cayenne in place of the harissa.
Note #2: This is one soup that really does taste better if you cook your own chick peas instead of using canned ones. To use dried chickpeas, start the night before. In a large pot, soak 1 1/2 cups of dried chickpeas in water to cover for at least 12 hours. Drain, rinse and cover with fresh water plus a little salt, or use bouillon in the flavor of your choice. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 1/2 hours or until the chickpeas are very tender. Check occasionally to make sure they are still covered with liquid; add more as needed.