Chickpeas

Chickpeas

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
6 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

What goes around, comes around. This is as true in food as it is in fashion – who would have thought that all those healthy, hippy dishes of the 1960s would return to favour so soon! In a delicious display of inverse snobbery, it appears that ‘cucina povera’ – cuisine of the poor – and its cousin the Slow Food movement are back in style in trendy restaurants the world over.

The fundamentals of this way of eating are reflected in the well-known ‘food pyramid’ philosophy, which recommends grains and pulses aplenty, an abundance of fruit and vegetables, fish as often as possible, poultry and lean meat in moderation, and cheese and other dairy produce for occasional treats.

Middle Easterners are great exponents of this style of eating, and are probably more inventive in their use of grains and pulses that anyone else in the world. Just look at what they do with the humble chickpea! A staple in Arabic cooking, chickpeas are used in countless soups, stews and stuffings. Roasted and salted, they are sold by street vendors as a snack all around the Middle East. Mashed, they form the basis for what are probably the most famous Middle Eastern dishes of all, hummus bi tahini and falafel. Dried chickpeas can even be ground into a flour for thickening stews and making all kinds of fritters, pancakes, dumplings and breads.

High in protein, easy to grow and handy to store through the long winter months, chickpeas are almost the perfect food. They are also one of the most ancient of foods, believed to be native to south-west Asia and having spread to the Middle East, India and southern Europe by Neolithic times. They were supposedly introduced to North Africa and Spain by the Phoenicians, and were later reintroduced by the Moors, who also established their popularity in Spain. They have remained a staple food in all these countries ever since.

Selecting and storing chickpeas

The variety of chickpea most readily available here in Australia is the creamy yellow garbanzo. It can be found in all supermarkets, dried and in tins. Tinned chickpeas are certainly more convenient, as they are ready to eat as they are. But they have a strong, almost metallic kind of smell and flavour, which can be quite off-putting. We would only recommend using them in an emergency.

Dried chickpeas vary enormously in age, size and quality. However, if you buy chickpeas (and indeed any pulses) from Middle Eastern or Indian grocers, where there is a swift turnover of stock, you are more likely to get a fresher, better quality product. In some specialist stores you may also be able to find a smaller, darker chickpea, which is believed to be closer to the ancient variety.

Chickpea flour, known as ‘besan’ and ‘gram’, can also be found in Middle Eastern and Indian stores. Both the flour and dried peas need to be stored in a well-sealed container and kept in a cool, dark cupboard.

Using chickpeas

One of the most common complaints about dried chickpeas is that they take so long to prepare. Well, this is true up to a point, but bear in mind that most of the preparation involves soaking, which although time-consuming, requires absolutely no effort at all.

Always pick over chickpeas before use, discarding any which are dark and shrivelled, and rinse them well in several changes of water. Cover them with twice their volume of cold fresh water and leave them to soak, at least overnight, and preferably for 24 hours. Many Middle Eastern and Asian cooks add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to the soaking water, especially in hard-water areas, which is believed to help loosen the skins.

If for some reason you forget to soak your chickpeas the night before, then a ‘quick soak’ will suffice. Rinse and drain the dried chickpeas and place them in a pan with twice their volume of cold fresh water. Bring to the boil and cook rapidly for several minutes. Remove them from the heat, and leave them to soak for 4 hours before draining and cooking.

When the chickpeas are ready to cook, drain the soaking liquid and rinse them well. Put them in a pan with fresh water and bring them to the boil. Do not add any salt at this stage as it toughens the skins and prolongs the cooking time. Turn the heat down low, cover the pan and allow the chickpeas to simmer. From here, the cooking time varies greatly depending on how fresh the chickpeas are. We have found that some take as little as 40 minutes, while others take up to 3 hours (yes, really!). Towards the end of the cooking time you may salt the water.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, drain them and rinse them very well in several changes of cold fresh water.

Recipes in this Chapter

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