What the heck is a chickpea?
Does it have anything to do with chickens? Is it even a pea?
Were chickpeas (cicer arietum in Latin) named after a rather unattractive wart on Roman philosopher Cicero's nose, or was Cicero, born with a less-than-perfect nose, named after the chickpea?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are mild-flavored legumes (not peas) that look and taste a bit like soft and creamy nuts. There are two main types: Desi, which are smaller and dark greenish; and Kabuli, softer and light beige -- the chickpeas we generally buy in the US.
One of the world's healthiest foods, chickpeas provide hefty doses of dietary fiber that help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and magnesium and folate that protect against heart disease. (Pair chickpeas with garlic and or turmeric for additional heart-healthiness.) A good source of protein, they're also rich in calcium and iron.
To use dried chickpeas, first make sure the chickpeas you're using are all the same age. If, like me, you decant your dried legumes into glass jars, you might have more than one batch mingled together. Legumes of different ages cook at different rates, so use all chickpeas from the same original package.
You'll need to soak them for 24 hours (in a bowl of water in the refrigerator, to prevent fermentation), then cook them for a couple of hours. Some cooks add a bit of baking soda to the soaking liquid, said to slow both the fermentation and the rooty-toot-toot when you eat them, but there is an aftertaste that I don't like. When you're ready to cook, drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas, then place in a large pot with three cups of water to each cup of dried chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, and cook, skimming any foam, for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours. Cooked chickpeas will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days, or can be frozen.
My advice? Skip the dried chickpeas; stock up on cans. The long soaking and cooking time plus increased convenience more than compensates for the loss of a few nutrients here and there (and the difference in nutrients between dried and canned is negligible).
A series of unfortunate encounters (sorry, Lemony Snicket) put me off chickpeas for many years. One taste of these chickpeas Kalyn ordered at a tapas restaurant in Boston brought me back into the fold.
Oh, and the Cicero-chickpea question? We may never know which came first.
Chickpeas with sausage and pepper
Substitute chorizo, or a spicy chicken sausage, and if you can't find piquillo peppers, use store-bought roasted red peppers. Perfect for picnics, potlucks, or a quick-and-easy supper, this recipe, adapted from Perfect Tapas, serves 4-6.
8 oz beef hot links, chorizo, or other spicy sausage
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, roughly chopped
15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 piquillo peppers, drained, patted dry, and sliced
1-1/2 Tbsp sherry vinegar, or to taste
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Cut the sausage into 1/2-inch dice. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened but not browned. Stir in the sausage and cook until heated through, 2-3 minutes.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the chickpeas and piquillos. Season with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.
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