It goes by many aliases such as chickpea, garbanzo, ceci, Bengal gram or chana. All of these refer
to the Cicer arietinum. The Latin name is derived from the appearance of the dried legume itself
– it has ridges that resemble sheep horns. You know, Aries the sheep hence arietinum. Regardless
of what you call it, chickpeas are a staple in many cultures and also an important source of
dietary protein is developing nations. I simply feel that they are culinary chameleons that are
great in salads, side dishes, stews, soups, spreads and wherever else your culinary imagination
As previously mentioned, chickpeas are an excellent source of dietary protein in a majority of
cultures. For developed nations – like ours – where protein is readily available at any
supermarket, chickpeas can add much needed dietary fiber to our diets. As readily available foods
are processed, reprocessed and refined, they often leave out an essential nutrient that we don’t
even absorb – namely dietary fiber. One cup of cooked chickpeas supplies 10 to 12 grams of a
mixture of soluble (the type that lowers serum cholesterol) and insoluble (the so called
“roughage” that may prevent constipation) dietary fiber. That’s almost one-half of the
recommended daily allowance!
Along with this hefty dose of fiber, chickpeas also have a very low glycemic index and glycemic
load so it won’t overwhelm your blood sugar right after a meal – a VERY GOOD thing if you
have diabetes, glucose intolerance or the metabolic syndrome.
Chickpeas also are a good source of molybdenum, manganese, folic acid, iron and copper. And
you thought you were simply eating garbanzo beans.
Using the Whole Bean
The two sources of chickpeas are canned and dried. Both are readily available to Americans at
any supermarket. Your choice depends on how much time you want to spend prepping the edible
product. Like any dried legume (other than lentils), dried chickpeas do require an overnight soak
then boil and simmer for 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours or pressure cook for 15 to 20 minutes. I’ve used
both methods depending on how pressed for time I am – pressure cooked dried chickpeas on
weekends, drained and rinsed canned chickpeas when cooking in the middle of the week.
When time is not factor, I try to use pressured cooked chickpeas for dishes where chickpeas are
the star or highlight of the dish or when making hummus. I use the canned variety when adding
chickpeas as a protein alternative to stews, curries and soups where texture isn’t as important and
convenience is the rule.
For starters, since the chana is a staple in India, chickpeas are always welcome in any curry
whether vegetarian, as the main ingredient or as a supporting role in chicken curries. They also
are great as the starch component of the meal as the side dish to curries, vindaloo, tikka or
If you’re in the mood for Middle Eastern cuisine, the same rules apply whether it’s a harira stew,
chicken and apricot tagine or tabouli salad; chickpeas can be added for extra protein or serve as
the side starch course.
The classic pureed chickpea dish is hummus or pureed chickpeas mixed with tahini (sesame
paste), garlic and lemon juice. This classic dish is usually served with toasted pita bread wedges or
chips but it also can be used in sandwiches instead of mayonnaise or mustard or as the spread
itself (like peanut butter) with roasted red peppers and fresh cilantro for the ultimate Middle
Hummus can also be revved up a notch (since Emeril has the monopoly on kickin’ it up) by
creating your own classics. Add equal parts of baba ghanoush (eggplant spread) or add roasted
peppers for a red pepper hummus. Canned chipotle peppers (dried smoked jalapenos) and harissa
(Moroccan spicy pepper paste) will give you an incendiary hummus while fresh mint, cilantro
and edamame will produce a green tinged herb based hummus. Since the base ingredients of
hummus are pretty neutral, your imagination is the limit to your own personalized hummus.
The traditional fried chickpea dish is falafel or ground, spiced chickpea based “meatballs” that are
pan fried or deep fried and served in pita bread along with a tahini based sauce. The base recipe
uses either rehydrated dried chickpeas or drained canned chickpeas with various spices – cumin,
coriander, chili pepper, oregano, parsley, etc – along with a little baking powder and/or baking
soda. Fresh garlic and onion usually round out the seasoning and bread crumbs are used to attain
the right texture so that walnut shaped “meatballs” can be formed.
Like hummus, falafel seasoning can be tailored to your own preference; cayenne and harissa if
you like spicy food, fresh parsley, cilantro and mint if you like fresh herbs or simply dried cumin,
coriander and black pepper for the basic recipe.
Though I’ve had falafel “sandwiches” served with sauces ranging from tahini based to fruit based
(chutney type) to yogurt based (like tzatziki sauce), if you want to round out the amino acid
profile of your meal (for a complete protein), you should use a tahini based sauce as the
proteins in wheat (from the pita bread), chickpeas and sesame (tahini) give you a high quality
protein like other animal based proteins.
If you’ve already tried hummus and are in the mood for something different, try this whole
chickpea dish that can be used as a side starch or as a the main protein course of a meal. This
recipe was my first foray into the world of individual Indian spices instead of simply using
bottled curry powder.
2 tbsp Canola oil
¼ c fresh minced ginger
1 medium onion, chopped
3 plum tomatoes, diced
½ c fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cans drained and rinsed chickpeas
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground mustard seeds
1 & ½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 pinch ground cloves
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Heat oil and add ginger and onion and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add chickpeas then spices and
toss frequently to prevent spices from burning, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and toss, about
1 minute. Can add 1 to 2 ounces of water or sweet wine if the mixture is too dry. Remove from
heat and toss with cilantro.
Here Chickie, Chickie, Chickpea!