The Mighty and Versatile Chickpea
Garbanzo. Bengal gram. Ceci. Shimbra. Hommes. Lahlabi. Chana. This is a mere sampling of the names used around the world for the little bean known in this country as the chickpea.
The chickpea is not as old as the ancient lentil, but it's not far behind, clocking in around 8000 BCE. Like the lentil, it was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, according to food historian Ken Albala, author of "Beans: A History," which he describes as modern-day eastern Turkey, northern Iraq and Syria.
The chickpea that most Americans are familiar with is called the kabuli, a larger, beige-colored variety common in the Mediterranean, but there's another called the desi, a smaller, darker variety that is more common in India, available in shades of red, green and black. I've yet to try these multi-colored gems and am eager to learn more about their flavor, texture and cooking times.
The chickpea figures into more global cuisines than you can count on both hands, including India, Ethiopia, Spain, northern Africa and throughout the Middle East.
This compact bean is a mighty source of nutrients. One cup of cooked chickpeas contains more than 12 grams of dietary fiber, which is roughly half of the daily recommended amount, plus 14 grams in protein. It's also a decent source of non-dairy calcium, a tidbit that makes me very happy.
Below, the recipe that many of you have been requesting. Because it allows for canned chickpeas, this is do-able on a weeknight, a fait accompli in just under an hour. There's been so much interest in chickpeas of late, so I invite you to share your tried-and-true favorites. The more parts of the world covered, the merrier.
Easy Chickpea Curry
Adapted from "From Curries to Kebabs" by Madhur Jaffrey
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, thoroughly drained
About 8 ounces fresh tomato, roughly chopped
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh hot green chilies of choice (I used 3 medium Thai chilies and result was more than a medium hot)
1 cup cilantro leaves and/or stems
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil of choice
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cardamon pods, smashed open with the side of a chef's knife
2 bay leaves
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 medium onion); it's also nice grated
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
Make spice paste:
In a blender or in the bowl of a food processor, add tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chilies, cilantro, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, 1 teaspoon of the salt, plus 5-6 tablespoons of water. Blend until smooth, pushing mixture from sides of bowl with a rubber spatula when necessary.
Pour oil into a wide, lidded pan and set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves and stir for 30 seconds. Add onions and potatoes. Cook until onion is lightly browned, about five minutes, turning heat down as necessary.
Stir in spice paste, making sure onion-potato mixture is thoroughly coated. Cover, reduce heat and cook for at least five minutes. Add chickpeas, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt plus 1 cup of water. Stir and bring up to a simmer. Return cover and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving to appreciate the flavors. Great by itself, with rice or with your favorite flat bread.
Makes 4-6 servings.
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