Last blog, I introduced you to one of my very good friends: the slow cooker. And now I would like you to meet another one. My relationship with the humble chickpea is a particularly fulfilling one, and this bean is by far one of the most versatile ingredients the student cook can utilise.
Chickpeas generally come in two varieties: tinned and dried. Both have their respective pros and cons. Dried chickpeas need to be soaked before being cooked, usually for about twelve hours (or overnight) but have better flavours and textures than their tinned brothers, which, in turn can be eaten as they are.
Chickpeas are incredibly healthy. Being a rich source of protein and fibre, they are excellent for the digestive system. Naturally very filling, these beans are excellent for dieters watching their weight and calorie intake.
For the Middle Eastern chef chickpeas are indispensable, being the most important ingredient in the staple dish hummus. It’s actually surprisingly easy to make this delicious, creamy, nutty spread. Simply soak chickpeas overnight and boil for between one and two hours with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. Allow to cool then blend in batches with tehina, salt and lemon juice. It’s a good idea to reserve the boiling liquid instead of completely draining it to adjust the spread’s texture if it appears to be becoming too thick. While many enjoy their hummus with garlic, paprika and olive oil, it’s good to keep to a basic recipe. That way, you can add on as many extras as you like afterwards. (This recipe is taken from the Hummus Bros. of London who have a chain of restaurants dedicated to serving the best hummus outside the Middle East).
In the UK far too many people are content to simply cut carrots, celery and cucumber into sticks to dip into their hummus. I, however, do not approve. The Middle Eastern way is far better, with hummus often taking a meal’s centre stage. At its most simple there will be a plate of hummus with a swirl in the middle filled with olive oil, dotted with paprika. This can become far more elaborate with garnishes of slow-cooked whole chickpeas and minced lamb laced with pine nuts. This must always be served with flat bread, but tortilla wraps work as well.
Felafal is another favourite. Whatever the Egyptians may say though, it is made with chickpeas, not fava beans. Unlike hummus, there is no need to cook the chickpeas after their initial soaking. Simply blend in a food processor with fresh coriander, finely chopped onion, salt, an egg to help with the binding, sesame seeds, lots of fresh garlic and a very generous shake of cumin. I then shape into (roughly) ball-shaped patties and allow to chill for at least half an hour before deep frying. If the mix is still too runny I sift flour into it. Low temperatures are best, as the patties may otherwise burn on the outside while remaining raw within. Once cooked, they should be served with flatbreads, hummus, finely chopped tomatoes and cucumber salad and gherkins.
And that, my friends, are just two ideas of the amazing things you can do with chickpeas. The possibilities of other ways to use them, particularly in soups and stews, are endless. But the conversation must carry on elsewhere. Please get in touch, and I look forward to continuing this some other time!
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