Ingredient of the Month: Chickpeas

Danielle Oteri

by Danielle Oteri on February 23, 2010

The first time I had a chickpea I believe it was dumped over an iceberg lettuce salad and called a garbanzo bean. It wasn’t terribly good. But lo and behold, chickpeas have become one of my favorite pantry staples. They’re packed with nutrition: protein, iron, fiber and potassium and therefore an ideal ingredient here in the dregs of winter. Chickpeas are an incredibly versatile (and inexpensive) little legume, so here are a few good ideas for you to try at home.

  • Pasta e ceci. After learning about this dish in Arthur Schwartz’s Southern Italian Table, I’ve been making it at least once a week. Although the traditional preparation calls for a type of pasta called lagane, you really can use any flat or loosely curled pasta. (Barilla’s Campanile work perfectly.)

    Start a pan with 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and red pepper flakes. Once the garlic starts to brown, dump a can of chickpeas, water and all, into the pan and let it cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Next take the bottom of a mug and smash half of the chickpeas. Add the drained, cooked pasta and mix well. Once a big heap is on my plate, I’ll often add a swirl of a high quality olive oil, Cafaggio being my favorite, and a little grated cheese.

  • Stewed chickpeas, fried soft-boiled eggs, and toasted bread at Prune

  • Stewed chickpeas. One of the most fantastic dishes I’ve had recently was the stewed chickpeas and eggs at Prune. Although I haven’t been able to find Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe online, it’s just one demonstration of chickpeas as an easy base for a dish.

    Simmer chickpeas in vegetable or chicken stock, throw in a couple of crushed tomatoes with pinches of your favorite herbs; wild oregano and Calabrian red pepper flakes for me please, and then serve them as bed for a piece of grilled fish, sausage, or two poached eggs. You may also want to consider giving your chickpeas the deluxe treatment and stew them into a fragrant chana masala for which Molly Wizenberg’s recipe is perfect for Indian cooking neophytes.

  • Crispy salami and chickpea cocktail mix. Long ago Casey introduced me to this recipe, originally pulled from Food and Wine, and we have each done our own versions to great success. Basically, you deep fry strips of salami, chickpeas, and a sprig’s worth of rosemary leaves. This is one of those “not a morsel left” types of dishes that will ensure proper praise of the host and cook.
  • Hummus. Sure, it’s easy to pick up a tub of Sabra, and it will taste pretty good, but it’s also easy to make hummus at home, hummus that’s appropriately room temperature and lacking preservatives or soy lecithin (whatever that is). Simply blend chickpeas and tahini in the food processor until smooth. You could also add garlic, pine nuts, or any of those other things you find in the grocery store brands.
  • Fava and “chech.” Dried fava beans and chickpeas are the traditional party mix of old Italian men playing cards. Seriously, if you live in Carroll Gardens, take notice the next time you pass a group of men playing sidewalk poker. You can purchase dried fava and chickpeas in any Indian or Italian grocery. It’s a much better snack than pretzels and you can decide how much salt to add.
  • Chickpea fries. Made famous by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, they are really just a renamed version of panelle, a Sicilian street food classic. Chickpea flour can also be purchased at any Indian or Italian grocery.

    Mix 1/2 pound of chickpea flour with four cups of cold water and stir into a saucepan as though you were making polenta. Once smooth (about 15 minutes), spread the mixture on a baking sheet and let it solidify and cool for about an hour. Finally, slice into squares, or fries, and pan fry them until crispy. On the streets of Palermo, squares of panelle are stuffed between bread for quick sandwiches. I think they are pretty perfect on their own, especially if fried in a fragrant olive oil. As a general note, chickpea flour is a fabulous alternative for those avoiding gluten.

So, what are your favorite ways to cook chickpeas?

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