The Simplexity of the Chickpea
A chickpea on its own can appear to be boring. Its color is pale and beige, and it is round with a sort of creamy texture. Most of the time, one purchases them in a can, submerged in a gloopy liquid, aquafaba, that looks and feels similar to egg whites. At first glance, it is not an attractive snack. But like we always hear, "looks can be deceiving," and "don't judge a book by it's cover." In my mind, this is how a chickpea should be perceived.
It wasn't until the last few years that I realized my addiction to chickpeas. I would have them mindlessly in salads and pastas, and occasionally I would eat hummus if I could find one that tasted great and did not include tahini (shoutout to Ithaca Hummus, the only brand I like from a Cornell alum). However, once I started living on my own and working in the city, I realized needed to find healthy, substantial ingredients at a low cost, often with little prep involved due to my hectic schedule. Chickpeas seemed to be a smart choice, so I started buying them more frequently. Out of laziness, I would just throw them into a dish to add some protein, and if I could not come up with something quick when running short on time for breakfast or just looking for a much, I would eat them plain. These early morning snacks where my head was elsewhere actually had me continually coming back to reality to focus on what I was eating.
Turns out, the chickpea is actually DELICIOUS. Yes, it might be bland, but with its perfect nuttiness and hint of earthiness, it has a simple, subtle intrigue that keeps drawing me in for more. Plus, you can eat them mindlessly, just like you would with chips or pretzels or cheese doodles, but with many more health benefits (high protein and fiber. tons of vitamins and minerals, helping lower cholesterol) and a lot less calories. Now, I crave plain chickpeas, and as soon as I run out of them, I have an incessant need to buy more, but not only for snacking. They are tremendously multifaceted and can be enjoyed in both their typical, whole garbanzo bean form and ground into flour, and while I have already found numerous uses, I am certain so many more still exist. I look forward to discovering them based on how incredible the chickpea has been so far, as seen below.
First, we have a classic option - hummus! Very easy and fast to make - essentially, put the chickpeas in a blender with lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and salt and purée until smooth. Being that there are very few ingredients in a classic hummus, it is a great platform for creativity, both for the knowledgeable cook and for someone who just likes to experiment. In the beginning of quarantine, my friend demonstrated how much fun and personalized hummus can be through a 'Hummus Challenge' - I took it on myself and even found a new staple ingredient to add whenever I make hummus now.
My hummus is special for two reasons - it does not have tahini, and it has an invisible secret ingredient. Instead of tahini, I actually use sesame oil. While they are very different products, sesame oil still comes from sesame seeds, just like tahini, so I think this is a pretty clever way to change it up a bit while staying true to the roots of hummus.
Now, for the secret ingredient - nutritional yeast! Known for bringing a cheesy flavor to dishes, it also brings a powerful umami punch. When mixed with blended chickpeas, the cheesiness does not come through, but the umami certainly does, along with a different kind of nutty tang that compliments the distinct nuttiness of the sesame oil and chickpeas, adding a real layer of depth to tie it all together. And because you cannot see it, if you did not know nutritional yeast was included, attempting to identify what it might be brings even more amusement to this dish!
So, a Syncopated-style hummus should include cooked chickpeas, aquafaba (makes it smooth without muting the flavor of an already muted ingredient), garlic (I usually include fresh, but I think roasting it would give a sweet earthiness that would also pair really well with the other unusual ingredients), salt, lemon juice, olive oil (for some clean richness), sesame oil, and nutritional yeast. Blend it in a robot coupe or blender until you achieve the desired consistency, and eat it by the spoonful, in a green salad, instead of mayo in egg salad (featured in my second pop-up and in the third picture below), on a sandwich, as a dip for vegetables or chips, or with...
Chickpea crackers are almost as simple to make as hummus. Again, they include very few ingredients to start - chickpea flour, water, oil, and salt. I do not work with a set recipe to make them, but as the chickpea flour is very absorbent, I err on the side of caution with the water so as not to make it too wet.
For a decent amount of crackers, I will add about a cup or so of chickpea flour to a bowl, some oil - olive oil or a flavored oil if I am looking to be fancy, salt, some spices and dried herbs if I desire (garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, coriander, cardamom, ginger, thyme, oregano, dill), and then the water last, little by little. Initially, I will mix with a wooden spoon, but as it starts to come together, I will get my hands right in there to incorporate everything evenly. Within a minute or two, the dough will be ready - it should be fairly stiff. Then, you can roll it out to your preferred thickness with some chickpea flour on the surface (I like it on the thinner side as the cracker will be a little dense - if it is too thick, it could become difficult to bite), cut into any shape you like, reform and recut excess dough (no gluten development to worry about here), season with any additional ingredients (I like to drizzle a little more oil and sprinkle with Maldon salt), and then bake at 350°F for 7 to 10 minutes. The crackers should be golden brown when they are ready, but they do not have to be completely set - they will harden a little more as they cool.
These crackers are great to use in place of chips, as a vessel for a little hors d'oeuvres, or instead of croutons. With a light flavor, a hard crack, and a soft, crumbly mouthfeel, they serve as a great base for other components and provide awesome texture in every application.
Chickpeas are a constant in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking, so it is no surprise that they go well with spices from the region - but they also go well with spices from any region! If you haven't recognized it yet, the theme of this blog post is that chickpeas can go with anything, so this concept should come as no surprise. However, you might not think to roast or fry them since they are already cooked - this is a fantastic way to infuse more excitement into your garbanzo bean snack, as well as give them a crispy texture. But eating them as is will satisfy you too!
Recently, I was making an open-faced challah sandwich, and on top of my everything bagel-spiced cashew cream cheese, I put spiced chickpeas (drained and rinsed from the can and tossed with a little oil to help the spices stick) and a jalpeño-cilantro zhug. The creaminess of the spread definitely helped to balance the spicy warmth from the cumin, sumac, paprika, coriander, cardamom, and ginger on the chickpeas and the heat from the pepper in the sauce. I even included aquafaba in the zhug to help achieve a smoother consistency. Every component here had such intense flavors, and it was a fun way to make a really tasty, interesting, and easy snack.
You are probably familiar with the idea that aquafaba is a great replacement for egg whites. It has the same look and similar properties, working exquisitely as a binder, thickener, emulsifier, or rising agent in baked goods and pastry techniques. For the dish mentioned above where I used hummus in egg salad, I also made aquafaba meringues. As this savory concept was inspired by the chickpea, I wanted to use it in as many ways as possible. With just a little sugar for structure and salt for taste, I whipped my aquafaba to stiff peaks, piped them into meringues, dehydrated them, and seasoned with za'atar. Along with some fried chickpeas, they lent a playful crunch to this whimsical dish, and with their shiny white color and distinguishable shape, they spurred even more attraction and curiosity to a truly eye-catching mélange of food.
Another traditional use for chickpeas - falafel! Made with either ground or mashed whole and cooked chickpeas, they are usually fried to produce a golden brown, crunchy exterior sealing in a moist, cloudlike, flavorful explosion. I had some of the most excellent falafel in Israel as well as in The Marais in France, but I still like to prepare my own to remind me of those marvelous bites.
Usually, I will make it with canned chickpeas, but I recently used chickpea flour to change it up; I also baked it for a healthier take. With salt, baking soda, dried oregano, dried dill, dried chervil, cumin, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon juice, hot water, and harissa oil to perk it up, I had a quick dough that I could form into balls and finish baking in under 10 minutes. The texture is not the same when baked and not fried, but it still is soft and fluffy and the flavors are just as prevalent. Serve them alongside spaghetti or soup in place of meatballs for an unexpected, vegan riff!
Panisse is another few-ingredient dish made from chickpeas. It hails from France and is essentially a chickpea fry. And like an ideal French fry, it is cooked twice - but in a different manner than the technique for a potato. First, in an approximate 1:2 ratio of flour to water, the chickpea flour is mixed with hot water, oil, and salt and cooked over low heat until it becomes thick and holds it shape. The mixture is then cooled in a greased pan, then fried or baked until crispy. Pretty hard to mess up actually, so it is good option if you want to try something more challenging but with little room for error.
As per usual, when I went for this dish, I chose the healthier route, baking it instead of frying. I actually put the batter in a springform pan and baked it like a cake. It took a lot longer to reach a consistency resembling that of a cake, but when it was done, I had a product with substantial structure to support and embellish with my choice of accoutrements. I used a coriander, cardamom, and coconut milk tomato sauce, celery-cilantro purée, and feta cheese to build a slice of Middle Eastern-inspired 'pizza,' and then I put it all together for breakfast the next day in one giant bowl. Whether eating it in a refined manner or as comfort food, it certainly filled me with even more appreciation for our friend, the chickpea.