It’s about time that someone spoke up for the humble chickpea.
Small, unassuming and usually languishing in tins or unappealing bags of dried pulses on supermarket shelves, she’s easy to overlook. But the truth is that beneath her uninspiring exterior lies a positive powerhouse of nutrition and culinary possibilities.
I’ll be honest, it’s only recently that I have come to truly appreciate her. Chickpeas (or 'revythia') are among the staples of the traditional diet in Greece, which has been my home for the past two decades, but I had always turned up my nose when it was served. This was probably due to the fact that most Greeks only eat just one variation – a plain, rather bland soup which was never visually enticing enough to make me want to try it.
My chickpea epiphany came a little over a year when I decided that I didn’t need meat at all in my life anymore (I still tuck into fish, seafood and all things dairy). To eat well – to get all the nutrients you need AND to enjoy whay you're eating – without meat takes a smidge of learning, and a good glug of imagination.
Enter the chickpea. Incredibly cheap (something not to be sneezed at in these cash-strapped days), with a long shelf life, and packed with protein, fibre and all sorts of goodness a body needs. It was begging to be cooked, eaten, enjoyed.
So, I cast aside my pre-set notions of unappetising (for me) soup my mother-in-law serves up, and got creative with the chickpea.
My first tentative steps took me in the direction of hummous (a delicious puree of chickpeas with garlic, lemon, tahini and olive oil), then started experimenting with variations on the theme. Adding mashed up avocado pears to the mix adds a velvety dimension (plus a double-whammy of nutrients and – sadly – calories) to the dish. Similarly, chickpea mash as featured in the brilliant book ‘Backwards in High Heels’ by Tania Kindersley & Sarah Vine gives it sharp spicy edge by replacing the tahini (sesame paste) with a smidge of dried chilli (Harissa paste also works well). All of the above are wonderful with Arabic bread, corn wafers and a fresh green salad.
Fresh, homemade, easy, virtuous and tasty. Who could ask for more?
And yet, I felt there was still more I could do to transform the chickpea from humble to orgasmic.
I experimented with one of my mother-in-law’s signature dishes – chickpea fritters, a local delicacy on her home island of Samos. Mashed up chickpeas, mixed with chopped onions and dill, these fried fritters are delicious hot from the pan. But, if you’re trying to give the frying pan a wide berth, they're probably not a great idea.
Then, one day, when flicking through an old recipe book, I came across a recipe for Moroccan lamb, pepper & chickpea casserole, and I decided to experiment with a meat-free version. Tentatively, and not knowing if all the effort would be worth it in the end, I set about getting creative in the kitchen. With the recipe and my foodie instincts as a guide, I set about gathering ingredients, chopping veg (something I find strangely soothing), boiling chickpeas (soaked overnight) and anticipating the feast I would – hopefully – enjoy at the end.
Well, dear readers, it was a success – the Orgasmic Chickpea was achieved. Good-looking, aromatic, tasty and good for you. It’s the sort of thing I could serve up for my most extreme vegan friend (she knows who she is) and yet still be enjoyed by avowed carnivores (at least open-minded ones) like my Other Half.
Here’s how I did it:
2 medium red onions sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1 large red (bell) pepper, deseeded & thickly sliced
1 large green (bell) pepper, deseeded & thickly sliced
1 large yellow/orange (bell) pepper, deseeded & thickly sliced
pinch of saffron strands
cinnamon stick, broken
1 tablespoon clear honey
300ml/halfpint/1 and quarter cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon Harissa paste
200g/7oz can of chopped tomatoes
1-2 cans of cooked chickpeas (or a good handful of dried chickpeas soaked overnight & boiled til tender)
(Optional extra 1: A handful of mixed pulses, beans etc – soaked overnight and cooked til tender)
(Optional extra 2: 1-2 sweet potatoes cut into bite-sized cubes gives it extra substance)
Salt & pepper
1. Toss onions in lemon juice and put in saucepan. Mix in sliced peppers, saffron, cinnamon stick and honey. Add the stock, bring to boil and cover & simmer for about 5 minutes.
2. Add to pan with the onions & peppers. Season and stir in Harissa paste, tomatoes, chickpeas and mixed pulses/sweet potatoes (if using). Mix well, bring to the boil and simmer - uncovered - for about 20 minutes.
3. Serve with couscous dusted with cinnamon powder, or boiled rice.
It’s a simple as that!
Even if you have to soak the chickpeas overnight and boil them in advance like me (I’ve yet to find tinned chickpeas at Greek supermarkets), it’s hassle free and easy.
But I’m all for expanding my chickpea horizons, so if any of you our there have any other recipes I can try, bring it on.
After all, who am I to turn down the opportunity of multiple orgasms?