An ancient food, chickpeas are a type of pulse, the seedpods of a feathery-leafed plant that grows about 50 cm high. They’re grown and used across a large swathe of the globe – Turkey, India, Ethiopia, Mexico, South America and Southern Europe included. High in protein, chickpeas' uses almost know no bounds; they’re found in salads, dips, soups, stews, pasta dishes and snacks. In the Philippines, they’re even cooked in heavy sugar syrup and added to sweets like halo-halo, a complex dessert based on fruit, shaved ice and lashings of evaporated milk. Astoundingly, the liquid from canned chickpeas can even be used as an egg white substitute in vegan baking. It acts as an emulsifier and foaming agent and works in meringues, nougat and macarons. Called “aquafaba” (sort of Latin for “bean water”), the stuff even has an official website.
1. Warm pumpkin hummus
Combine 750 g peeled, seeded and chopped pumpkin and 125 ml olive oil in a saucepan and cook, covered, over medium heat until tender. Process mixture with 1 400g can, drained, rinsed chickpeas, 2 cloves chopped garlic, ¼ cup tahini and ¼ cup lemon juice until smooth. Season to taste then serve.
This dish is based on a rustic Portuguese salad that’s not much more than dressed chickpeas, salt cod, olives and boiled eggs – the amounts and ratios aren’t fixed. Potatoes, while not traditional, do make it a bit more substantial and if you wanted, you could sling in some watercress sprigs or rocket leaves as well. The salad comes from the Alentejo region of Portugal, where it’s eaten as tapas; serve it as an entree among 6 or as a light summer dinner or lunch for 4.
3. Paprika fried chickpeas
Dry 1 can drained chickpeas using paper towel. Heat 2.5 cm of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high, add chickpeas and cook, shaking the pan often, for 6 minutes or until golden. Remove to a bowl using a slotted spoon, draining well, then scatter over smoked paprika and sea salt flakes and serve.
4. Chickpea and avo mash
Coarsely mash 1 drained can of chickpeas in a bowl. Add a peeled avocado then coarsely mash into the chickpeas. Using a fork, mix in ¼ cup basil pesto, a large pinch of dried chilli flakes and 2 tbsp lemon juice. Season to taste and pile onto toasted sourdough.
“Chaat” is an umbrella term for a whole raft of Indian snacks; this one originated in the province of Uttar Pradesh, but is now popular all over the country. There are lots of variations; sometimes a fresh, coriander-based chutney is used, for example. Canned chickpeas and purchased tamarind chutney will make this recipe super easy to whip up. Add ½ a teaspoon or so of chilli powder if you want some more heat. Serve as a light meal.
6. Chickpeas with kale and pancetta
Sauté 125 g chopped pancetta, 3 crushed garlic cloves and 5 chopped anchovies in 100 ml olive oil for 4 minutes. Add 1 drained can of chickpeas, a small handful of raisins and 1 chopped bunch kale. Cover then cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until kale is tender. Drizzle with good red wine vinegar to taste season and serve.
Here’s a really straight-forward chickpea soup; it’s actually what Tunisians enjoy for breakfast. Capers, chopped almonds, chopped olives, a dollop of yoghurt and some mint can all be added at the end, and the soup is commonly served ladled over cubes of yesterday’s baguette. Tuna is often added too and there’s also a (less common) version made with cow’s trotters.
8. Chickpea, lemon and basil pasta
Lightly crush 2 drained cans of chickpeas then add to a large frying pan with 400 g cooked spaghetti, 2 cloves crushed garlic, ⅓ cup lemon juice, 2 tsp grated lemon zest, ½ cup olive oil, a large handful of torn basil and lots of grated Parmesan. Add a little reserved pasta cooking water, season, toss well then serve.
You know that liquid that comes with canned chickpeas? It turns into an emulsifier when whipped for long enough, making it an excellent egg white substitute in vegan baking. Once you've tried these aquafaba meringues, the possibilities for egg-free desserts and edible gifts will seem limitless.
Traditionally, these Christmas cookies are made using pureed, freshly cooked chestnuts, although in some parts of Southern Italy, mashed chickpeas or ground almonds are used. Often they're deep-fried, and dipped in honey or rolled in cinnamon-flavoured sugar once cooked. Baking them is altogether an easier way to go. You can make the dough and filling ahead of time and once baked, these can also be frozen.
Photography, styling and food preparation by China Squirrel. When she doesn’t have her head in the pantry cupboard, Leanne Kitchen finds time to photograph food and write cookbooks. You can view her work on her website or on Instagram.
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