10 November 2008

I'm obsessed with chickpeas

Are you? You should be.

Chickpeas (easily one of my top 5 all-time favorite foods) are the best kind of tasty business - yummy and healthy. They are flavorful and filling, with a robust, nutty flavor. Chickpeas are extremely versatile and can be eaten by themselves or added to pastas, sauces, soups, salads, or any other dish you can dream up. They can also be ground into flour to make bread and other baked goods or roasted and seasoned for a tasty snack.

Chickpeas are quite nutritious and pack a lot of nutrients. They are full of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They low in fat, and the fat they do contain is the heart-healthy, unsaturated kind.

As a kid, chickpeas were my favorite treat. Coming from an Italian-American family, they were called "cecis" in my house. I didn't even know they were called chickpeas or garbanzos until way too late in life. I loved to eat them right out of the can with just a splash of Italian salad dressing. I still do this all the time (I've gotten slightly more sophisticated and make my own dressing now). I add chickpeas to as many dishes as I can and many of my meals are centered around them. "Chickpea Salad," which is composed of chick peas and any chopped veggies I have on hand topped with a splash of olive oil & some salt and pepper, is a staple in my house. Chickpea salad is a great lunch (easy to pack and take to work), light dinner, or side dish.

What is your favorite way to eat chickpeas?

My favorite brand of chickpeas are Goya, which I buy both canned & dried. Cooking dried beans takes a bit of time, but is well worth the effort. You can use the cooking water as a flavorful addition to broth, or other recipes. But when pressed for time, canned chick peas are easy, convenient and still delicious. Just be sure to rinse the canned beans before you use them.

Fun facts about chickpeas:
  • The chickpea (Cicer arietinum) belongs to the Fabaceae family.
  • The name chickpea can be traced back to its Latin name, cicer, from which the name Cicero (the famous Roman statesman, scholar and philosopher) was taken.
  • A chickpea may also be known as a garbanzo bean, Indian pea, ceci bean, bengal gram, chana, kadale kaalu, sanaga pappu, shimbra, or Kadala.
  • The chickpea is actually a seed, and its outer layer, or seed coat, accounts for about 15% of its weight.
  • The small little hole at the bottom of the chickpea is called the hilium, where it was once attached to its pod. Chickpeas (and other legumes) absorb water through the hilium, both while they grow in the ground and cook on your stove.
  • Chickpeas are one of the earliest cultivated vegetables; 7,500-year-old remains have been found in the Middle East.
  • The ancient Roman cookbook, Apicius, gives several recipes for chickpeas.
  • Chickpeas can be roasted and brewed as a substitute for coffee beans and were grown for this purpose in some areas of Germany during the World War I.
  • India is the largest producer of chickpeas, followed by Pakistan and Turkey.
  • There are two types of chickpeas: Desi and Kabuli. The Desi variety is smaller, darker and has a rougher coat than the widely-used and recognized Kabuli.
Veggie and chick pea soup is perfect for a mid-week meal; it is easy, quick, nutritious, and delicious. The recipe below details the ingredients I used last night; but this soup is all about improvisation. I served the soup with cheesy toast (french bread slices broiled with goat cheese and thyme and drizzle of olive oil).

I have made many varieties of this soup using whatever ingredients and herbs I have on hand. I encourage you to do the same.

Veggie and Chick Pea Soup
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

4 stalks celery, chopped

1 head broccoli, chopped

3 sprigs thyme

1 bag of spinach washed, picked and chopped

2 cans chick peas, rinsed

6-10 cups stock or water*

1/4 pound orzo

Salt & pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven. Saute the carrots, onions, garlic, celery, broccoli and thyme until the veggies are soft. Add the spinach, season with salt and pepper. Cover to wilt the spinach a bit. Add the chickpeas and stock. Bring to a simmer. Taste and season with salt and pepper again if needed. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove the thyme. Bring the soup up to a boil, and add the orzo. Cook until al dente. Serve hot topped with grated parmesan cheese (or drizzle with some tasty olive oil).

*Note: I used chicken stock I had made & stored in the freezer a few weeks ago. You could use any broth you like - veggie, chicken, or beef. Many store-bought varieties are tasty & good in a pinch. If you don't have broth you could use water - just be sure to taste & season accordingly.