Olive oil and chickpeas are the stars of this meal — both of which you probably already have on hand. Personally, I’m never without a can of chickpeas in my pantry. There are endless ways to turn them into a meal, from tossing them into salads to smashing them onto toast. But my absolute favorite is perhaps the most overlooked — and that’s braising! It’s easy, it’s hands-off and it’s totally transformative.
Olive oil is one of the key ingredients in the Mediterranean diet and one of the most well-known. It’s rich in heart-healthy fats and antioxidants, and it’s also incredibly versatile. Although it’s most commonly used for sauteing or roasting, olive oil is also great for baking and, of course, braising. Here, braising the beans in the olive oil not only prevents them from drying out in the oven, but it also enriches them with flavor and all that good fat. For everyday use, my favorite brand is California Olive Ranch.
While the technique of braising is often reserved for meat, it works just as much magic on a humble can of beans. When submerged in olive oil and braised slowly in the oven, chickpeas become silky and softened and infused with flavor, without a hint of that dull tinned taste that’s all too often the crux of canned conveniences. Here, they’re mixed with lemon and garlic and topped with tangy feta for a bright and cozy vegetarian dinner.
First, you’ll infuse the olive oil with harissa (New York Shuk is my favorite brand), which gives it spicy, savory flavor. The beans are mixed with thinly sliced fennel and lemon, rosemary sprigs and smashed garlic cloves, all of which mingle with the olive oil and soften in the oven. It’s a simple meal that’s bold with personality, especially when finished with a generous sprinkling of crumbled feta.
My preference is to serve it with crusty bread, a green salad, and my favorite bottle of wine (white or red), but really, you do you. The braise can be served over couscous, brown rice, farro or creamy polenta, or even tossed with pasta.
Harissa Olive Oil-Braised Chickpeas and Fennel
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 medium fennel bulb with fronds
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 medium lemon
- 2 (about 15-ounce) cans chickpeas
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons harissa paste or sauce, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 4 ounces feta cheese
- Crusty bread or cooked couscous, for serving (optional)
1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325 F.
2. Coarsely chop 2 tablespoons fennel fronds and reserve. Trim the top and bottom of 1 medium fennel bulb. Quarter, core and thinly slice. Smash 4 garlic cloves. Halve 1 medium lemon. Thinly slice half the lemon and remove the seeds from the slices; reserve the remaining half. Drain and rinse 2 cans chickpeas.
3. Pour 1 cup olive oil into a 9-by-13-inch or other 3-quart baking dish. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons harissa paste and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; stir to combine. Add the chickpeas, fennel, garlic, lemon slices and 3 fresh rosemary sprigs. Toss gently to coat everything in the harissa olive oil and arrange into an even layer.
4. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake, stirring halfway through, until the chickpeas are soft but not falling apart, and the mixture is bubbling, about 1 hour total.
5. Uncover and squeeze the juice from the reserved lemon half over the chickpeas and stir to combine. Let cool for 5 minutes. Taste and if you like things spicier, stir in a bit more harissa as desired. Crumble 4 ounces feta cheese over the top, sprinkle with reserved fennel fronds and serve with crusty bread or over cooked couscous, if desired.
Recipe notes: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
(Sheela Prakash is a senior contributing food editor for TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)