"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

The chickpea stays in the picture…

by Julie Tilsner on October 15, 2008

in Minor Miracles, Lunch, Snacks & Sides, Vegetarian

Chickpeas and me
I’ve always loved chickpeas. I’ve eaten them out of the can, sauteed in a little garlic, with toasted cumin seeds, thrown over cous-cous or over baked cod, for years. But I’ve always heard they’re so much better when you cook them yourself, so it always sort of felt like cheating.

Still, the idea of soaking dried chickpeas overnight then cooking them for two hours was too daunting. I don’t have the time management skills for such tasks. I embrace the tenant of immediate gratification too strongly. And if I can have my beloved chickpeas whenever I want them (presuming I can find my can opener), I’ll always take the shortcut.

Until I read about this chickpea salad with ginger on Mark Bittman’s blog, Bitten. Anyone who’s read my blog for long knows I adore Bittman, the man behind “How to Cook Everything,” the book that lured me into the kitchen in the first place. He is a jovial Everyman; a cook who encourages non-cooks to give it their best try. I’ll try anything he suggests. And here he writes:

(chickpeas) “They have a different flavor from any other legume, arguably the best of all. And the liquid they exude when you cook them is actually delicious. You’ll never become aware of this last aspect if you use canned chickpeas, because the canning process changes the taste of the broth.”

Delicious love is something worth working toward. Maybe it was time to give the long-route a go.

I bought a bag of chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans and chana daal) from my local Indian grocer. I soaked two cups overnight. I cooked them in water, per any instruction, for two hours.

The result: Chickpeas.

Chickpeas that were indeed meatier and somehow a smidge more satisfying, but chickpeas nevertheless. There was nothing special about the broth, either, unless you really have a soft spot in  your heart for chickpea-flavored water.

Clearly I was doing something wrong. I put the batch into Tupperware and doled some out to mix with roasted vegetables or what have you over the course of the week and then forgot all about them.

Normally my experiment with greatness would end there. But because I love chickpeas so, I vowed to try harder next time. So. A few weeks later, more soaking. More cooking. This time I scoured the internets for some recipe that would tell me, yes, you stupid cow, cook those chickpeas in garlic, or with onions, or some kind of spice, or something that would impart some flavor, but nothing came up. So again I cooked up a batch of nice-tasting chickpeas with chickpea flavored broth.

This time, however, I used my home-cooked chickpeas to make Bittman’s chickpea salad with ginger.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: Which should have been warned me off, but, you know, I’m kind of stupid when it comes to chickpeas.

1 tablespoon cumin seeds or ground cumin
3 cups cooked or canned chickpeas (rinse canned ones)
2 bell peppers, red, yellow or orange; cored, seeded and diced
1 red onion, diced
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I just squeezed half a lemon in there…is that
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves.

In a dry pan, toast cumin seeds over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes (for God’s sake don’t go check your email while doing this or you’ll have to do it all over again.) Grind to a powder using a spice mill, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.

Toss everything except the cilantro into a large bowl and mix. You can prepare up to this point and forget about it for up to two hours). Taste and add more salt, pepper or lemon juice if you like, garnish with cilantro, and serve.

And my result? Glop. Too much lemon juice? Badly diced peppers? The fact that I forgot about the onion? At least it was colorful glop.

Ah, but then I re-seasoned and let it sit for a bit, hoping the flavors might magically mingle. And indeed, those flavors cooperated. When I spooned some out for the Drama Tween, she responded very favorably, even asking for a second helping.

And I found that despite its outward appearance, it made for some very, very tasty lunches, especially when zapped in the microwave and sprinkled with chunks of Israeli Feta.

So even though I dice like an ax-murderer, even though I forget key ingredients. Even though I am running blind with my salt and pepper and have the assembly skills of an Albanian auto-worker, the chickpea came through in the end.

Love obviously conquers all. That and a lot more practice.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

atriana October 15, 2008 at 3:14 pm

sniff – sniff..
You obviously adore the chickpea; but you may need to manage your conduct when ready to chop it all up!


elfini (Dawn) October 16, 2008 at 9:21 am

Hey! my father was an Albanian auto-worker!
Well, he could have been…


Nomie October 17, 2008 at 8:44 am

We made the chickpea and ginger salad, and it just about took off the inside of my mouth. I think my dad took the “or more to taste” part of the ginger waaay too liberally. Augh.
However, the broth from the cooked chickpeas made a lovely base for a chickpea, leek and prosciutto dish. Mmm delicious.


LL Linda October 19, 2008 at 10:54 am

I would think a little lassie such as yourself — with not just a smidgen of Irish blood coursing through her bloodstream — would immediately see the problem. It’s the salt, silly. Those canned chickpeas you’ve been happily noshing upon are chock full of it. Try a little pinch (or half a package of MSG) the next time you soak. That chickpea broth will knock your socks off!


Kelli October 20, 2008 at 6:44 pm

Ahhhh, the Israeli Feta! I have ahem, a can, ahem, of garbanzos…which are getting some feta, olive oil, fresh parsley and a zap. I am now looking forward to dinner!! Thanks for the inspiration…


JulieR October 21, 2008 at 3:04 am

I often don’t soak my chickpeas overnight but more like 3-4 hours and once they come to a boil, I skim off the foam and add chopped onion, garlic, a bay leaf, maybe some parsley stems, a bit of olive oil, some vegetable bouillon if I have it, etc then let them cook until tender (for a couple of hours, usually). I salt after they are cooked. Javier makes them in the pressure cooker but I hate it because they get too mushy and the skins fall off and float around in the broth. I think chickpeas are great with a lemon/garlic/olive oil vinaigrette, and yep, parsley and feta. Lulu loves chickpeas, always has!


Lisa October 23, 2008 at 10:45 pm

But was it really worth it in the end? Chickpea broth just doesn’t sound all that appealing…


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