Most Valuable Ingredient: Chickpeas

Give your menu and infusion of Mediterranean taste.
ChickpeasMost valuable ingredient

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Chickpeas may not be a pantry staple in your house — but they ought to be. They’re a versatile food, pairing well with everything from a single herb and some tomatoes in a simple soup to complicated spice blends in long braises, like curries or Mediterranean stews. Long a favorite in Middle Eastern and North African cooking, chickpeas can certainly become one of your go-to staples, too.

The Stats
Chickpeas — a legume like other beans and lentils — are a great source of fiber. They’re also a great source of protein and iron. Plus, there’s that buttery, creamy taste, a real bonus in any dish.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Chickpeas are also called "garbanzo beans" and Bengal grams. In Italian cooking, they’re known as ceci (cheh-chee).

Chickpeas are a budget-stretcher. No doubt about it: Buying the dry ones, soaking them, and cooking them for several hours is the least expensive way to go — about 14 cents per half-cup serving. But it’s not much more expensive to buy canned varieties and save yourself the hassle. These ring in at about 27 cents per half-cup serving

Chickpeas are only 3 PointsPlus™ per half-cup serving — though different brands can vary. But keep that portion in mind. More than half a cup and the number jumps around a bit.

The Score
You can buy chickpeas either dried (and thus in need of some preparation at home) or canned (ready to eat).
Dried These come in the largest variety of colors — from the more common beige to black, green, and red. These latter are exotics, most likely available at Middle Eastern markets. They’re also more herbaceous and less sweet. The black ones have very thick skins and won’t purée very well in dips or sauces.

Look for whole, firm, dried chickpeas, all with a uniform color. There should be no dust in the bag or packaging.

If you’re buying dried chickpeas in bulk, smell the bin to make sure there are no bad odors, caused by excess moisture breaking down the chickpeas toward the bottom of the container.

Store dried chickpeas in a cool, dry place, sealed tightly in a container to ward off ambient humidity. But remember this: The cooking time will increase dramatically the longer they’re stored, as they continue to dry out and harden.
Canned Buy chickpeas canned in water — perhaps with salt — but without any sauce or other folderol.

Check the expiration date — particularly if you’re stocking up on several cans to put them away in your pantry.

Like all canned beans, canned chickpeas should be rinsed both to get rid of the foamy film on them and to help alleviate the overabundance of salt left from the canning process.

Speaking of which, always buy low-sodium varieties. Why let someone else control the sodium content of your meal?

In Play
As with all beans and legumes, spread dried chickpeas on paper towels, then pick through them to remove any stones or debris. (Dark or granite counters may hide the very bits you’re trying to pick out.)

Dried chickpeas should first be soaked to reduce the cooking time. You’ve got two choices: Either cover them with cool water in a big bowl and soak them overnight, or bring them to a boil in a saucepan filled with water over high heat, boil 1 minute and then let stand in the pan undrained for 2 hours.

To cook dried chickpeas, drain them and rinse well to remove any foam. Set them in a big saucepan and add water in a 3:1 ratio (3 parts water for every 1 part dried chickpeas). Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours, or until tender.

Once cooked, these chickpeas can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to a week, a little bit of flavor in so many dishes.

Dried and then cooked or simply canned, chickpeas can be sprinkled on salads for a little beany, buttery goodness among the leaves.

Stir them into soups for the last 5 minutes of cooking to add some healthy protein and fiber.

Skip mashed potatoes. For a quick, starchy side, toss chickpeas in a skillet with some softened onions and garlic as well as a fresh herb like tarragon or rosemary.

Chickpeas are famous in dips worldwide. Many people know them as the basis of hummus, made with these legumes, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil and spices. But you needn’t go that far. Put them in a food processor and purée with a couple of jarred roasted red peppers and some lemon juice for an easy spread in wraps or on cut-up veggies.

Make a chickpea chili. Mix together cooked or canned chickpeas, canned diced tomatoes with all their liquid, chopped onion, garlic and green pepper, as well as a good bit of chili powder. Simmer for about an hour until the tomatoes break down.

Substitute chickpeas for any bean in your favorite baked bean or bean salad recipe.

Finally, cooked chickpeas can be ground into a flour, available at many specialty stores. It’s not for desserts because of its nutty, earthy, almost smoky taste. But you can substitute it for the flour in the coating for oven-fried fish fillets, use it in place of half the all-purpose flour in pancake or waffle recipes, or add it as a thickener to soups and stews, whisked with a little of the broth until smooth before being whisking back into the pot.

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