For this dish, allow time to soak the chickpeas (overnight, or 12 hours). The dish will keep 2-3 days, covered and refrigerated.
250g (8-9 oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water 5 Tbsp olive oil 2 large onions, peeled and chopped 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped 1 Tbsp peeled and chopped ginger 1½ tsp turmeric ½ tsp cumin seeds ½ tsp coriander seeds ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes 500ml (2 cups) water 1 large lemon 250g (8-9 oz) spinach, trimmed, washed and chopped 1 large eggplant Yoghurt for serving, optional 1 cup chopped coriander (cilantro), optional
1 Drain chickpeas and rinse. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy-based casserole over medium heat. Add onions, cover with a lid and cook gently for about 12 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and ginger and continuing cooking, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes. Add turmeric, cumin and coriander seeds and chilli flakes. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then mix in drained chickpeas and pour in water. Slowly bring to the boil.
2 Grate lemon and add zest to chickpeas. Squeeze juice and set aside to add later. Lay a sheet of baking (parchment) paper on top of the chickpeas, cover with a lid and turn heat to low. Cook on lowest possible heat for 2-3 hours, until tender. Most of the liquid should be absorbed by the time the chickpeas are tender (add a little more water if it dries up during cooking).
3 Discard paper from top, bring chickpeas to a gentle bubble and add spinach. Cover with the lid and cook gently for 10-12 minutes until spinach is tender (if there is a lot of liquid, remove lid and let it boil off). Season with salt.
4 Cut eggplant into thickish rounds then into fat ‘cubes’. Air-dry for 10 minutes. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (hazing but not smoking), stir in eggplant, cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often (the oil will be absorbed). Cover the pan with a lid, lower the heat and cook for about 10 minutes until the eggplant has started to brown and soften. You’ll need to turn the eggplant cubes with tongs to encourage even browning during cooking. Aim for a good dark colour but don’t let the eggplant burn (lower the heat if things get a bit fierce). When eggplant is tender, remove the lid and continue cooking until nicely browned. Sprinkle generously with salt.
5 Stir eggplant through chickpeas. If liked, add a few dollops of yoghurt on top and scatter with coriander. Serve hottish or at room temperature.
Some chickpeas take longer to cook than others. If the chickpeas have been heat-treated, they can take several hours to soften and Australian chickpeas, which are smaller and darker in colour, also take an age to cook. Larger, creamy-coloured chickpeas coming from USA and Turkey, called garbanzos, are the best, especially organically-grown ones.
If the chickpeas are still not tender after 3 hours, mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda with a little water and stir in (it speeds things up!). The water will foam up but then settle. Continue cooking until tender. I don’t recommend adding the baking soda at the start of cooking as it easily turns the chickpeas to mush – that may be fine for a purée but not in this dish when the desired result is whole, tender chickpeas.