Clay-Baked Chick Peas
Chickpeas are a national dish in several Cyclades islands, most significantly, though, in Sifnos. This soup, prepared in unique tapered clay pots that narrow at the mouth, called xespastaria in the local dialect, is the de rigeur Sunday meal. Every family has its own such pot and brings it on Saturday night to the local baker, preferably one with a wood-burning oven. The soup bakes all night, just in time for families to pick it up on the way home from church the next day. Sometimes, rice or dried corn is added to make the soup more filling. To find some of the artisinal Greek products you'll need to make this, visit my online shop here, where you'll discover a host of lovingly curated Greek ingredients.
Dilute the baking soda in a large bowl of cold water, add the chick peas and leave to soak, covered and refrigerated, overnight. Drain and rinse very well. Place the softened chickpeas on several large kitchen towels, fold over the towel to cover the chickpeas, and rub back and forth to loosen their skins. Remove the skins and discard.
Place the shelled chickpeas in a large ovenproof clay or earthenware pot with a lid. Add the onions, olive oil, bay leaves, salt, and enough water to cover by 3 inches/8 cm7.5 cm. Place the lid on top.
Place the chickpeas in a cold oven. Light the oven to 260˚F/125˚C. Bake for 8 hours. Remove, cool slightly, break off the dough with a dull knife and serve. Alternatively, bring the chickpeas to a simmer in a large pot over medium flame and cook for about an hour, or until al dente. Drain, reserving some of their cooking liquid, then transfer to a clay baking dish with a lid. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to barely cover the chick peas, as well as the olive oil, onions, garlic, and bay leaves, and bake in a preheated oven at 375F/170C for about 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until tender.
For extra flavor, you can add carrots, fresh or dried oregano, thyme and/or rosemary.