You might call them ceci, garbanzo beans, Indian peas or another name -- but we have been eating chickpeas for thousands of years. They're a favorite ingredient in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, Burmese, Italiian, Jewish, Philippine, and other cuisines and grown around the world. Although canned chickpeas can be high in sodium, they are otherwise a nearly perfect food, containing carbohydrates, protein, sugar, and fiber, plus bunches of vitamins and other nutrients.
Plus they taste fabulous. They have a nutty, satisfying flavor and a slightly grainy texture that makes a wonderful contrast to other ingredients.
Chickpeas are grown in a tropical or subtropical climate and like other legumes, come from plants with pods. Where they're grown, chickpeas may be eaten just picked and raw, but most of us buy them either in a can or dried.
Progresso and Goya make excellent canned chickpeas. I always look for low sodium ones since many canned beans contain more salt than we can possibly rinse off. I also think that canned chickpeas are more tender and have a slightly smoother texture than reconstituted dried peas and so I use canned ones in recipes where they'll stay whole, as in a salad.
But dried chickpeas are a great pantry addition; they keep for months and are an excellent value when bought in bulk (look for them in natural food stores and larger markets that have excellent bulk ingredient departments, such as New York's Fairway or Whole Foods).
Bringing Dried Chickpeas Back To Life
Although they're easy to reconstitute, as with any dried legume, it takes time for the soaking and cooking so plan ahead. Also remember that going from dried to cooked increases their size: one cup of dried chickpeas will become about 2 cups when cooked.
Here's how it’s done:
- Pick through the dried chickpeas for any debris or peas that are notably discolored. Rinse in cool water.
- Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover by an inch with water. Let soak overnight or 12 hours (no need to refrigerate).
- Drain and transfer the chickpeas to a large pot. Cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that may form. Once the foam is gone, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 1 hour or until soft and tender but not falling-apart-mushy.
- Reconstituted chickpeas can be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 3 days.
Note: Do not salt the chickpeas while cooking as this can make them tough.
Cooking With Chickpeas
As a global food, chickpeas are notably versatile:
- In Italy they are ground into flour that's used to make crepe-like pancakes called socca.
- Indian cooks split them and use as the main ingredient in chana dal, and ground into flour for papadums and other fried breads and pastries.
- Hummus is a dip, also used as a sauce, that's popular in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It's a purée of chickpeas and tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds) plus garlic and lemon. See our recipe.
- In salads they instantly add more complexity and volume to raw vegetables. I love them in a simple salad with shredded raw carrots and a lemon vinaigrette. See our recipe.
- Their texture and taste combine beautifully with pasta. In his recent and quite splendid cookbook, The Southern Italian Table, Arthur Schwartz included a recipe for one of the most delicious pastas I've ever cooked. And it couldn't be simpler. We have his recipe for Flat Pasta and Ceci, flavored with rosemary, garlic and red pepper flakes.
- Chickpeas also are popular in Spain. Mark Bittman, who has spent time in Spain working on several of his television programs, recently published a recipe in The New York Times for Pan-Fried Chickpeas with Spinach and Chorizo. I've made it (I left out the sherry) and served it as a side dish with seafood. We've added a link to his recipe below.
- Add them to soups, stews or casseroles as an instant way to add flavor, nutrition and body. I always add a can of them to any favorite minestrone soup as I love how chickpeas taste with long-cooked tomatoes and greens like kale or spinach.
- Fried chickpeas are a healthy snack. Cooked until crispy in olive oil, they are an addictive alternative to wasabi peas or nuts that are higher in a less healthy fat. There are many recipes for fried chickpeas, including simply tossing rinsed and fully dried canned chickpeas in a little flour and deep frying in 375° F oil.
- Want less fat? You can pan sauté them in a little olive oil plus salt and ground cumin until the peas become brown and crispy. See our recipe.