I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat my first chickpea until I was well in my 20s.
How did I survive?
The first taste came from a packaged container of hummus I bought at the Thriftway on Vashon. My little island was a bastion of hippiedom, and so the store stocked foods I had never seen before. Even though I had been a vegetarian for years, I still stuck to the same foods I had eaten all my life, without the meat. Those years of my late 20s, I began to discover how the rest of the world ate. And hummus came home with me, one adventurous evening.
Hummus has stayed with me ever since.
I’ve learned to make it myself now. Tender chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, sea salt, a pinch of lemon, perhaps some herbs. When I bought a good food processor, I whirled up batches two or three times a week, sinking warm pita slices into the silky golden pillows. Usually, I ate half a batch before I scooped out the rest into a Tupperware container to last me the next few days.
I still love hummus. Today, I just eschew the pita and go for sliced cucumbers or ripe tomatoes instead.
However, it took me until I said goodbye to gluten to say hello to chickpeas in other forms than hummus.
These days, I just can’t seem to take in enough protein. The first three months of my pregnancy were the season of meat. The Chef brought home lamb chops, slices of beef tenderloin, roasted chicken, and pork loin, every night. There was fish, too, good fish without mercury or farm-raised pasts, the kind of fish that grows strong brains (or so the literature says). I swear, I was making up for those vegetarian years.
But these days, I’m lingering on legumes; simmering beans in olive oil; cooking up green lentils with rosemary, garlic, and bay leaves; soaking large white beans overnight to slip into soups the next day. Mostly, though, I’m gobbling up chickpeas.
In the late afternoon, for much of the first few months of my pregnancy, I ate one snack in the late afternoon. Shaved fennel salad with lemon and olive oil, plus some fabulous cheese. (Last week it was Pyrenees semi-soft with green peppercorns). In fact, I’ve had this one so much that the Chef actually said to me, “Enough with the fennel salad. We’re going to have to see if there’s a kicking-the-fennel-habit support group for you.” I laughed. Perhaps he’s worried that Little Bean will have fennel fronds sprouting from the ears.
Easy to fix that. I just switched to chickpeas.
Really, it’s so simple. Take chickpeas out of a can (make them organic, from a good source. They’ll taste better). Rinse them off of that semi-gelatinous gunk. After draining, sprinkle them with Maldon salt, a pinch of pepper, some high-quality olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and shreds of fresh mozzarella. Eat.
oh heavens, I think you’ll want to eat some more the next day.
But the convenience of the can steals the pleasure of working with dried chickpeas. Look at that photo above. Notice the folds and furls, like the forehead of old men. (Actually, as the Chef said when I showed him this photograph, they look like the faces of the two old men in the balcony of the Muppet show.) Dried chickpeas look like tiny dessicated brains, or the thousand folds on the legs of babies, just above the knees.
None of this may be making you want to eat them. But really, you want to. Soak the chickpeas overnight in a goodly amount of water, and then cook them until they are tender. Working with the dried beans makes them much more tasty than the canned ones will ever be.
And I haven’t ever eaten a fresh chickpea. But this summer, I’m going to try to find some.
I’ve worked a bit with chickpea flour, and I want to try more. One of the most memorable bites of our honeymoon in Italy happened in Florence. I ate golden-toasty cecina (the Florentine name for a hot pancake made with chickpea flour), filled with thin slices of prosciutto, drizzled with truffle butter. Need I say more?
(I believe that the taste of chickpeas in packaged hummus is to cecina in Florence as puppy love with the photographs of boys in Tiger Beat is to daily love with the Chef.)
And now I’m hungry for more.
On Sunday, we’re having our monthly ingredient potluck. For March, it’s chickpeas. That’s partly for the vegetarians, to give them a break after the bacon party. But it’s also a chance for me to pick up new ideas for my favorite legume.
So, what would you bring? What floats your chickpea boat?