Chickpeas are the hero of this dish, says chef Shane Delia – host of A Middle East Feast and owner-director of Melbourne’s Maha, Maha East, Maha Bar and food-delivery marketplace Providoor. He soaks dried chickpeas overnight (without seasoning) to soften them “enough to break apart in your fingers” – but not as much as for making hummus. It’s a relatively easy dish to prepare, but the more time you have for the garlic, onion, carrot, celery and bay leaves to infuse the simmering chickpeas the better. You’ll also want to save that flavourful liquid to cook with at the end.

“I think seasoning is the important part. You spend all this time trying to get everything right, so don’t rush the seasoning,” says Delia. When chopping the veggies, make sure they’re chunky enough to release flavour – “you don’t want to cut them so small you lose them altogether”, he says. “This is a pretty simple dish but there’s lots of flavours going on. You’ve got turmeric and tomatoes and onions in the braise, then you have the lovely fieriness of the toum, and to finish it off you’ve got the zhough. It really amplifies the flavour.”

Zhough is a Yemeni hot sauce made with coriander and spices that’s used throughout the Middle East. It’s added for freshness when serving – and you can add plain Greek yoghurt for sourness, too.

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“I think every dish should have, for me, a little bit of crunch,” adds Delia, who throws in toasted pine nuts before plating up. The dish works as a standalone feast or part of a meze: “You’ll find this is one people keep coming back to with their spoons for seconds and thirds.”

In SBS series A Middle East Feast, Delia presents some of his favourite Middle Eastern and European dishes – from slow-roast lamb shoulder and flavoursome fattoush to layered syrupy pastries. The show’s screening now until August 26.

Shane Delia’s turmeric chickpeas with tomatoes, greens and zhough
Serves: 4
Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus overnight soaking
Cooking time: 1.5 hours

50ml olive oil
3 brown onions, finely diced
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp toum (garlic sauce – see Delia’s recipe)
3 bunches English spinach, picked, washed and torn
5 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1.5 tbsp lemon juice
Flaked sea salt, to taste
80g toasted pine nuts

Braised chickpeas
300g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
5 garlic cloves, bruised
1 brown onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves

100g coriander, picked and washed
2 long red chillies
1/2 lemon, juice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
50ml extra virgin olive oil

Starting with the braised chickpeas, place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to simmer for an hour. Remove from the heat and strain, saving 1L of the braising liquid. Discard the cooked garlic, vegetables and bay leaves.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sliced garlic, and cook until translucent and starting to caramelise. Add turmeric powder and toum and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the chickpeas and spinach and stir until the spinach has wilted. Add the reserved chickpea stock and bring to the boil. Simmer until reduced and thickened. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, or until they start to break down. Remove from the heat, stir in lemon juice, a good pinch of salt and the pine nuts.

For the zhough, place all the ingredients in a food processor – or use a mortar and pestle – and blitz until a paste is formed. If needed, add a little water to thin it down.

Place the braised chickpeas into a serving dish and drizzle the zhough generously over the top. Add a spoonful of plain Greek yoghurt to serve, for extra sourness.

A Middle East Feast with Shane Delia airs Thursdays at 8pm on SBS Food until August 26, or anytime on SBS On Demand.

On the hunt for more cooking ideas? See Broadsheet’s recipe hub.