Sometimes the food gods conspire to make you take notice of a certain ingredient.
On one recent night, some friends invited us over for dinner and made chana masala, an Indian chickpea stew layered with the flavors of onions, ginger, cumin, tomatoes, sweet spices and sour fruit – all of it butting up against that inimitable creamy-firm texture of the peas.
The next night I arrived in New York for a meeting and gathered with friends after dinner at a Spanish wine bar in Chelsea named El Quinto Pino. On the bar was a small cazuela dish filled with chef Alex Raij’s famous (and often imitated) creations: deep-fried chickpeas that had been liberally dusted with smoked Spanish paprika. As full as I was from dinner, I couldn’t keep myself from reaching into the dish for these peas. Their skins had opened in the fryer and hovered by the peas like the wings on the Golden Snitch of Harry Potter fame, giving a fleeting zip and crunch.
The next day’s meeting involved a lunch delivery from ‘Wichcraft – chef Tom Colicchio’s chain of sandwich shops. The sandwiches were good but the marinated chickpeas got everyone making those little “yum” sounds. They were slippery with olive oil, spackled with gobs of chopped parsley and tasted of a healthy hit of garlic.
“I love chickpeas, and I love making them,” I blurted out.
“Me, too,” came the chorus.
The thing about making chickpeas is this: You have to decide if you’re going to start with dried or (no shame) canned. There are many fine brands of canned or jarred chickpeas that are neither soft nor mushy, and there are bags of dried chickpeas that have sat on the shelf so long they will never tenderize to that point of yielding creaminess that your garbanzo-loving soul craves.
I highly recommend buying your dried chickpeas from a store that moves them, such as an Indian market, a health food shop or a Whole Foods Market. You can use the quick-soak method – bringing them to a boil in water for a minute, covering the pot and then letting them cool for an hour. But I find the overnight soak more reliable. I also like to add a spoonful of baking soda to soften the skins. (Some Indian cooks rub the cooked chickpeas in the palms of their hands to remove the skins entirely.)
Sure, I like the flavor of dried chickpeas better. But there are times (i.e., Monday-Friday) and situations that need only a can or two.
Certain recipes, as well, benefit from the can. If you’re thinking of reproducing Raij’s recipe – which I recommend – that can is your best friend.
Fried Chickpea Snack
(Adapted from a recipe by Alex Raij.)
Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 10 minutes Serves: 8
In a high-sided skillet or pot, heat about 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Place the paprika, salt and cumin in a large, rounded mixing bowl.
Drain the chickpeas and pat dry with paper towels. Add them to the oil and fry until brown on the outside and creamy on the inside, about 5 minutes.
Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels. Transfer to the bowl and season. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Tuscan Kale and Chickpea Stew
Hands on: 40 minutes Total time: Overnight Serves: 8
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, add oil.
When oil shimmers, add the onion and cook until it turns translucent and just starts to brown. Add the garlic, paprika and about 1 teaspoon salt. Stir until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute or two, until it starts to brown. Add the canned tomato with its juices, and stir well to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the chickpeas and broth. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes until chickpeas are slightly too firm. Add the chopped kale, stir, cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve.
We like to serve this dish with white rice, Greek yogurt and Sriracha sauce. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold after a night in the fridge.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog