Start soaking chickpeas: Garbanzos aren't just for hummus anymore

Start with a bag of dried chickpeas. Finish with the taste of summer on your plate.
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Not everyone flips out over black beans. Pinto beans don't typically ignite passions. Lima beans don't get much love.

But chickpeas are a different story.

Their popularity has surged. You're likely to find them anywhere, any time, and on any table. Fried. Braised. Slicked with oil for a simple salad. On the pages of the hottest cookbooks, including the beautiful books of chef Yotam Ottolenghi. There's even chickpea flour.

David Tanis wrote about chickpeas a few months ago in his City Kitchen column for the New York Times. The chickpea, he says, is consumed frequently in the Middle East, Italy, Spain and North Africa. He calls it humble, and though it is praised for its ubiquity and versatility, I think this bean has earned its bragging rights.

Chickpeas are having a moment, says Amelia Morris, a writer and food blogger at bonappetempt.com. Yes they are.

Using canned chickpeas is convenient, but working with dried beans will give you a different result. Cooked dried beans are much more plump and tender than any I've had from the can, and you don't have to worry about added salt. It does take some planning though, because of longer cooking times.

Two cups of dried chickpeas will yield more than enough for a batch of hummus, a salad, and fried chickpeas for a midday snack at work or cocktail hour at home. I soak them in the morning before I head out the door for work. By the time I get home, they're ready to be drained and cooked.

The aroma of simmering chickpeas has that alluring and savory quality that permeates the house, letting everyone know something really good is happening in the kitchen. The simmering chickpeas with the added celery, onion, garlic, and bay leaves will remind you of mom's kitchen. And my mom doesn't even cook garbanzos. Olive oil adds an irresistible silkiness to the broth, which can be used to add flavor when cooking grains or soup. The beans soak up the goodness of your herbs and vegetables, but definitely keep all your flavorings wrapped in a cheesecloth. Everything softens considerably, and you don't want slimy bits of onion clinging to the beans.

The chickpeas will taste as good as their aroma leads you to believe. You can eat them straight from the pot in a little pool of golden broth.

If you find yourself without a Dutch oven, it's time to get one. It is absolutely one of my favorite tools in the kitchen because it is so useful. It's essential for simmering a big pot of beans, and it's my secret for frying without fear.

The high walls of a Dutch oven catch oil that would potentially spatter everywhere, and the wide surface area allows enough room for food to crisp and brown. In this pot, frying chickpeas is a cinch.

I've seen recipes everywhere for roasted chickpeas, but frying them is much faster and more sensible in July. The crispy beans can take on many flavors, so play around with them. Smoky paprika is a go-to spice, but I also love a batch infused with lemon zest and thyme. Serve them in small bowls. You'll eat them like popcorn.

The Summer Chickpea Salad lives up to its name with cherry tomatoes, peaches and thin slices of cucumber. I often use couscous in this because it cooks so quickly, but feel free to use quinoa, farro, or any other grain of your choice. Try parsley instead of basil or mint. It's a well-rounded salad that plays up the bean's adaptability, and it will quickly brighten up a lunch break at work or satisfy your friends at a picnic in the park.

We'll hold off on the soups and other Spanish-inspired chickpea dishes with chorizo until fall. Then, we'll call them garbanzos. But whatever you call them, a pot of the beans should go into your menu rotation year-round.

In a recent column, Mark Bittman asked, "What can't be made with chickpeas?" The answer is: not a whole lot.

The chickpea belongs on your table. Start soaking a batch now.

Ileana Morales writes the In Our Kitchen column for the Taste section. It publishes on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. She also blogs at alittlesaffron.com.

       
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