Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are one of the workhorses of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Latin American cooking. They aren’t true beans at all, but still are a member of the legume family.
The chickpea origins are thought to go back 7,500 years to the Middle East, spreading to India, perhaps carried by nomads crossing the Himalayas in caravans. Today, it is a staple food in India, and about 90 percent of the world’s chickpeas are grown on the subcontinent, for a total of more than 8 million tons.
In the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, India and parts of Latin America, chickpeas are an essential ingredient in soups and stews, much like our potato. No Algerian couscous or Moroccan vegetable tajine would be complete without chickpeas, and albondigas or Mexican meatball soup typically includes the round, buff-colored legume. Without the chickpea, no dal or hummus — based on pureed chickpeas — would be on the tables of India and the Middle East.
We have recently been doing a series of professional development cooking classes for school food service workers in different parts of the state, teaching different flavor profiles, and many of the dishes we’ve taught included chickpeas. From salads to soups and stews, they are readily adaptable to school lunches. The chickpeas can be cooked on site, or purchased canned, then drained and rinsed before being used in a dish.
David Binkle, food service director for the Los Angeles Unified School District, specifically requested that we provide a simplified hummus spread that could be served with raw vegetables, which we did. Commercially, hummus is available in many flavors, including garlic, roasted red pepper and lemon.
However, one of our favorite manifestations of the ubiquitous legume is chickpea flour, which is readily available in packages at supermarkets, as well as in bulk in specialty stores. Combined with water and olive oil, it works magic in the form of crepes and panisse, both specialties of southern France. Panisse is cooked somewhat like polenta, then spread into pans to cool and firm, or it is rolled into plastic wraps to make a log about one inch in diameter. The firm panisse is then sliced into rounds, squares, french fries or other shapes, and then fried.
The beauty of chickpeas to us is how their sweet, nutty flavor — whether fresh, dried, in a salad, a soup or stew, or even ground into flour — can reflect the tastes of cultures worldwide. The chickpea is equally amenable to lime juice and cilantro as it is to olive and walnuts, to chili and chicken, chorizo or bacon. This humble legume deserves a prominent permanent place in our pantries, whether in home or school kitchens, where it is ready to serve in just about any dish you can concoct.
Spread the cooked panisse onto a baking sheet and then let it chill thoroughly before cutting it into thick french fry-style rectangles. In cooking, aim for a crispy golden crust with a creamy soft interior. Panisse fries can be used as an appetizer or side dish, much as you would fried polenta.
2 cups chickpea flour
1 quart hot water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little for oiling the baking sheet
Extra-virgin olive oil for frying
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Putting it together:
Sift the flour, then combine it in a large saucepan with the water and olive oil. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble, 2 to 3 minutes. Now beat with a wooden spoon, again stirring continuously until the mixture is very thick and heavy.
Spread on an oiled baking sheet a scant ½-inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
When ready to cook, cut the panisse into “sticks” about 3 inches long and a generous ¼ inch wide. In a deep frying pan, heat the oil to 375 degrees, or until a small piece of the panisse quickly fries. Fry the sticks in small batches until golden, about 1 minute per side. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter to drain. To serve, sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Makes about 30 pieces (depending upon size and shape).
Chickpea Crepes (Socca)
These golden brown crepes, with a nutty flavor and soft texture that is thicker than classic crepes, are a traditional street food of Nice, France. They are now somewhat difficult to find on the street, but are increasingly found instead on restaurant menus. The crepes can be served on their own, with plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, or with a spread or topping such as goat cheese or tapenade.
1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 cup lukewarm water
4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Putting it together:
Sift the chickpea flour into a bowl, whisk in the salt and pepper, then slowly pour in the water, whisking it avoid lumps. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to two days.
To cook, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Stir the batter well. When the oil is hot, pour a thin layer of the batter into the pan and cook until the edges brown and curl slightly, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook the other side. Repeat until the batter is gone, adding more oil as needed.
Serve hot or warm with an extra sprinkle of coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, or a bit of goat cheese and tapenade. Makes about 5 crepes.
Chickpea (Hummus) Dip
This is a dip that can reflect various cultures and seasons, according to what vegetables are served. For example, jicama, radishes and peppers, plus a lime wedge and cilantro garnish for Hispanic; tomatoes, peppers, zucchini sticks in summer; add pita wedge for Middle Eastern. The quality of the olive oil is important for best flavor.
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and well drained, or 2 cups cooked
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini paste
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Sweet or hot paprika
Putting it together:
Puree the garbanzos in a blender or food processor and add the lemon juice, tahini, 1 tablespoon each of the olive oil and the garlic. Puree until smooth, adding additional olive oil as needed to make a creamy paste. Remove to a shallow serving bowl and drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the parsley and paprika. Serve with vegetables, crackers or pita bread. Makes about 2 cups.
— Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of the award-winning “DavisFarmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” (2012.) Co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo, they have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC. Their blog “Who’s Cooking School Lunch?” features personal stories of front line men and women cooking school lunch. Reach the blog at www.whoscookingschoolunch.com to subscribe and Ann and Georgeanne at email@example.com