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TODAY

Friday, May 24

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Chick peas, garbanzo beans, chana, Cicer arietinum, ceci! I love them all. Of course they're the same thing, but I love them nonetheless. These starchy, hearty, little beans (they are legumes) make me very happy. They're high in fiber, high in protein, low in fat, high in complex carbohydrates and good sources of zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin B6.

And they've got a great, great history. The first cultivation is believed to have taken place in Turkey 7500 years ago. There have been chick peas unearthed in the early Bronze Age deposits in Jericho, Crete and Cyprus. They're also known to have been grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon. The last great Eygyptian era (aka the New Kingdom) has the chickpea called "falcon-face" in a list of plant names on a school papyrus. And Homer even wrote about chickpeas in The Iliad.

The latin name Cicer arietinum gets broken down like this. Arietinum comes from the word "Aries" which means "the ram" because the seed looks like a small ram's head. Cicer was the common name for the crop. It was a highly revered crop, and Cicero bragged that his family name was derived from the plant.

But it also could have had something to do with the fact that he had a very large wart on the tip of his nose. Even now the word "ceci" in Italian means either "chickpea" or "wart." Even the Frech "pois chiche" is a synonym for warts.

It's far less sexy than oysters or chocolate, and yet there are claims that chickpeas have aphrodisiac effects. Dodonaeus, a physician and botanist in the 1500s, swore that they provoked urine, increased sperm count, and should not be fed to priests and scholars. And while I haven't tried it, there is an Arabic recipe which reports that amazing sexual exploits can happen if a man were to eat great quantities of chickpeas and drink camel's milk spiced with honey.

But my interest in them is much less exotic than that. I just think they taste good. They come pre-cooked in cans (drain and rinse well before adding to dishes to remove the "musical fruit" qualities), they last forever when they're dried, they freeze well after they're cooked (although they do get a bit mushy), and they last for several days in the refrigerator after they're cooked.

Older varieties of chickpeas had a much denser outer layer, and in order to penetrate it, recipes called for baking soda to be added to the cooking pot. Newer varieties don't require this, so leave it out of recipes you come across, unless you want a softer and mushier texture.

Living near Little India, I'm amazed by the varieties of chickpeas I've found at restaurants as well as dried in plastic bags at my local grocers. The chickpeas most commonly found in cans are fairly large in comparison to most of the dried chana dal. The nice thing about the smaller versions is that they take far less time to cook, they have a milder and less pungent taste, and they seem to pick up flavor more readily than their pre-cooked and canned brethren.

Before you can cook dried chickpeas, you'll want to pick through them for bits of stone, twig, or even the occasional bug. I admit to being squeamish about eating bugs, but if I find one dead bug in a bag of beans I'll throw out the bug and not the beans. You can cover the chickpeas with water in a bowl and let them sit for 12 hours before draining, adding to a pan and covering with liquid plus some spices and cooking for 1-2 hours depending on the size of the chickpea used. It's when they cook that they really soak up flavors so keep this in mind when you reach for that can. All of the recipes below can use canned chickpeas. Just add them in about 10 minutes before the cooking is complete to prevent mushiness.

I admit that I haven't made it, but I'm very intrigued by a recipe I found for Burmese-Style Tofu made from Chick-pea flower, water, vegetable oil, turmeric and salt. It seems a bit time consuming, but fairly simple. I've never made my own tofu, but tofu from chickpeas? Sounds pretty yummy. (I'll let you know if I find the time to make it.)

Since I haven't got the patience to stand over a pot of boiling water and chick-pea flour and stir continuoulsy for half an hour, I'm more likely to want recipes which take far less effort and time to cook.

Hummus doesn't even require cooking. Falafel (skip the boxed mixes, trust me) aren't exactly good for you since those sponges soak up a lot of oil, but they are tasty. But I'm skipping those since there are thousands of recipes for them out there.

In deference to my surroundings I'll give a basic recipe for Chana Dal (small dried yellow chickpeas) with Spinach, and a chickpea curry soup that has a bit of both Indian and Thai flavors. And since I still have an urge to eat bacon, I'll give you an easy recipe for combining chickpeas and bacon in a rosemary-tomato sauce over pasta.

Saag Chana Dal (saag means spinach, chana dal are small yellow chickpeas)
3/4 cup of chana dal which have been soaked overnight
1 1/4 cup of vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion that has been chopped
2 bay leaves
3 crushed cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
1 small package (about 10 ounces) of frozen spinach that has been thawed and lightly drained
1/2 teaspoon of dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder (or less if preferred)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of dried mustard powder

Put the chickpeas and vegetable stock in a pot over high heat. (You can add more liquid if you want a soupier mixture.) Bring it to a boil and reduce to medium. To get a thicker mixture, leave uncovered so more of the liquid will evaporate. Be careful not to overcook. In a separate skillet over medium heat, add the oil, onion and bay leaves. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onion starts to brown. Now add the garlic, ginger, coriander, chili powder, salt and mustard powder. Cook for 2-3 minutes until everything is well mixed and you start to smell a toasty, nutty scent. Now add the spinach and cook for another ten minutes or until the spinach is dry and the water has evaporated. Now add the contents of the skillet to the chickpeas, stir and cook until the desired thickness is reached. Serve with either cooked basmati rice or with naan or paratha.

Chickpea and Quinoa soup
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 medium onion that has been chopped
2 cloves of garlic that have been smashed but not minced
1 can of light coconut milk (the high-fat stuff is good, but high in fat)
2 cups of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds that have been toasted in a hot skillet (or 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin)
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
3/4 cup of dried chickpeas which have soaked overnight and been drained
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 dried peppers that you can chop or leave whole for easier removal, 1 jalapeno that has been seeded and chopped, or you can provide hot sauce for varying heat tastes
1/2 cup of quinoa or a small pasta
2 tablespoons of fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes until it is tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. Now stir in the coconut milk, the vegetable stock, the cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, the chickpeas, tomatoes and peppers. Bring everything to a boil before reducing the heat and letting it simmer for about 30 minutes to an hour or until the chickpeas can be easily pierced with a fork. Stir in the quinoa before turning off the heat and leave it covered for about 5 minutes. If using pasta, cook according to the package directions. Pour into bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.

Chickpeas in a Rosemary Tomato Sauce
4 ounces of bacon or pancetta that has been chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 clove of minced garlic
1 sprig of fresh rosemary leaves that have been chopped
1 can of chickpeas that have been drained and rinsed
1/2 box of Pomi marinara sauce (or 1 can of crushed tomatoes)
1/2 box of elbow macaroni, or short tubes of some sort
Salt, pepper and parmesan cheese to taste

Bring a couple of quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat cook the bacon until it is cooked through but is not yet crispy. Drain off most of the fat. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the rosemary and garlic and cook until the bacon is slightly crispy. Add the chickpeas and the tomato sauce and stir together. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. By now the water should be boiling, so add 8 ounces or so of pasta to the water and cook as directed. Drain the pasta before pouring into a large serving bowl. Pour the contents of the skillet over the top and toss to coat evenly. Serve with parmesan cheese if desired.

I'm ready for warm weather and cool salads to be a part of my future. I'm craving the days when all the windows are open and I can barely stand to be in the heat of the kitchen so I come up with recipes which require very little cooking. And many of the recipes which have come to mind have been chickpeas. If you have a favorite warm weather recipe that uses chickpeas, send it to cc@gapersblock.com. With your permission I'll reprint the recipe as well as your name and/or website address.

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