At some point, you can't seem to think of life without them.
And if that weren't enough, they keep surprising you even more. Your admiration never seems to end.
Well, that's my love story with chickpeas.
Yes, I have some other favorites. It's no secret how fascinating I find chia to be, how much I enjoy ice cream, how I choose dates instead of other sweeteners whenever I can, how much I love Mexican mangoes or raw honey. But I hold a special place in my heart (and my whole digestive tract) for the humble garbanzo.
I don't remember the first time I tried the chick-beaked bean (yes! that's where its name comes from), as I'm sure it was during my early childhood. It was always there, just like in a romantic novel, I kind of ignored it until it proved its magnificence, and then I couldn't go back.
Chickpeas are discrete. They don't care about being the center of attention, but they are always supportive of other ingredients, complementing them on their qualities. From garlic, to chocolate to curry to fresh herbs, chickpeas are always a great match. Savory or sweet, hot or cold, mashed or whole, at any season, for breakfast, snack, lunch or dinner, they can always be there to help, even in the convenience of a can. They might not sport fancy "super food" signs on their packaging, nor the prices commanded by such products, but they are precious.
Just like all legumes, garbanzos are rich in protein and are an amazing source of fiber, especially the insoluble type, which protects our colon after being metabolized by the healthy bacteria in the gut (remember last post about kefir? Well those bacteria).
Chickpeas are great food to achieve satiety (avoiding overeating, by producing the sensation of fulfillment of hunger with less amount of food) and they are also good for regulating blood-sugar levels. They can help lower LDL- (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides.
If that weren't enough, these Middle Eastern and Indian natives contain omega-3 fatty acids and protect our cells with their high content of antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolic acids and the mineral manganese.
In the kitchen, they are chameleons. They can be creamy and smooth when pureed or crunchy when roasted. They are great in stews or in soups and are a great addition to salads. They respond really well to sour flavors, to spice, to heat, and to sweet. When paired with whole grains, they can make a full meal with complete protein and fiber.
I use them as a base for healthy and delicious icing for cakes and cookies, and last week I made a salad by combining them with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, shredded carrots, fresh dill and mint, cooked wheat berries, sunflower seeds, a bit of cumin and some raisins. A keeper!
I try to always store a can of chickpeas (I prefer Eden brand, as they are BPA free) in my pantry for emergencies, but I try to cook a large batch of them once every two weeks.
I soak them in water overnight and the next morning I rinse them and put them in a crock pot with fresh water, covering the beans for about 2 inches. I go about my day, and when I come home, I season them and...they are ready. I freeze the left overs when there are any, but there's so much to do with them and they are such an easy-to-incorporate ingredient, that I usually end up using them all. Hummus, couscous, salad, roasted with spices as a snack, a quick lunch with veggies, etc etc.
I thought by now I knew them pretty well, but as I mentioned above, these little guys don't cease to surprise me.
A couple of days ago, my friend Debra Waldoks emailed me about her newest favorite dish. "Socca," she wrote, and she thought I would like it. I've worked, eaten and discussed food with Debra before, so I knew I could trust her. Filled with curiosity, I googled the South of France specialty (which is also enjoyed in Italy but called farinata) and realized I had all the ingredients in my kitchen to make a home version of this street food. I turned my oven on as hot as it can go, and proceeded to make the chickpea flour pancakes.
I'm a huge fan of crepes, and socca isn't only a delicious version of them, but it's also easy to make, it's gluten, egg, nut, dairy and soy free and features chickpeas at the top of their grandeur, as their Provencal creators might say. It has a bit of a falafel flavor, but with a very different texture. it can be eaten all by itself, right out of the oven or used as a base for pizza, salad or anything else you can think of. Just try it!
I can't wait to experiment further with it. Maybe a sweet version coming soon? Will let you know....
I only wished I were enjoying it near the beach in Nice, but since unfortunately, I don't have plans to be there this summer, I'll conform with eating them near the East River, and not near the Cote d'Azur.
In the meanwhile, I leave you with the basic recipe that I got by combining one published in the New York Times a couple of years ago and one by David Lebovitz, who included it in The Sweet Life in Paris.
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves, optional
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin, optional
Heat oven to 500 F. Put a nonstick 12-inch pan, or a 10-inch cake pan (preferably non-stick) a or cast-iron skillet in oven.
Sift chickpea flour into a bowl. Add salt and pepper and whisk in the water slowly, eliminating any lumps that form.
Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil, chopped rosemary and cumin. Cover, and let sit while oven heats, or refrigerate overnight. The batter will be loose, similar to crepe batter.
Once oven and pan are super hot, pour in 2 tablespoons oil into heated pan, and swirl to cover the bottom evenly. Pour in half of the batter, and bake for 10 minutes.
Check and see if socca looks firm, is starting to blister and the edges are a bit browned. If not, let it cook for 2 more minutes and check again, until it looks as described.
Slide socca off the pan into a cutting board. Slice into pieces or break with your hands. Prepare the rest of the batter the same way.
Eat hot or warm, and if you want, top it with whatever your heart desires or just as it comes out of the oven.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.
Where can you find chickpea (also called garbanzo) flour? Health food stores, Whole Foods, Fairway or online in http://www.amazon.com/ or http://www.bobsredmill.com/