Chickpeas for your Little Chickadees

By Casey Seidenberg

I’ve always thought of my husband as a Midwestern meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, him being from Minnesota and all, and imagined myself as the spice-loving, healthy vegetarian. But I realized the other day that his favorite meal is meat-free and probably one of the spiciest, most healthful dinners I regularly put on the table: chickpea curry over brown rice. We have been eating a lot of chickpeas lately. This passion began when we returned from Istanbul having devoured the most delicious chickpea dishes on the planet. The hummus there is silky and smooth and worth licking up. The lemon chickpea soups are refreshing and flavorful. I could go on.

All three of my children like chickpeas. As any parent can appreciate, unearthing a healthful food that pleases everyone is a big boon, so we embrace the chickpea. Hummus is a staple; we make it most weeks. Roasted chickpeas with sea salt and an array of spices are an easy snack. When I am stuck without a dinner plan, a can of chickpeas tossed with olive oil, chopped scallions and sea salt makes a great, protein-rich side dish to anything. Chickpeas lose some of their nutritional value when canned, so if you have the time, soak the dried beans overnight and then simmer for two to three hours.

A few facts about this legume:

  • Chickpeas are high in fiber, iron, vitamins and antioxidants.
  • 20 percent of the legume is protein, a percentage comparable to meat’s.
  • The Latin name for the word chickpea means “small ram” because the legume somewhat resembles a ram’s head. Other names include garbanzo bean and Egyptian pea.
  • A Chinese company is attempting to patent chickpea extract as a diabetes medicine because it is shown to lower triglycerides and cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar.
  • In some cultures, dried chickpeas are ground as coffee because they have a similarly nutty flavor.

I told my boys that chickpeas are eaten as dessert in some countries, which is true, but they didn’t take the bait. Maybe yours will?

Chickpea Curry

2 T grapeseed oil

1.5 C thin yellow onion wedges

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 T peeled, grated ginger

3/4 t cumin seeds

2 C fresh or canned tomatoes with their juice

2 t garam masala

1/2 t ground turmeric

1/2 t ground coriander

1 t sea salt

2 C cubed Yukon gold potatoes

5 C cooked, drained chickpeas

1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

2 T lime juice

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the oil.  When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until the garlic starts to brown.  1-2 minutes.

Add the cumin seeds, tomatoes, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, and 2 cups water.  Season with 1 t salt, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Add the potatoes and chickpeas, and continue to simmer until the potatoes are tender, 20-30 minutes longer.

Season to taste with salt and mix in the cilantro and lime juice.  Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately.  Curry can also be made in advance and reheated. Flavors settle nicely after a day.

Serve over brown rice and with a cucumber-yogurt raita if desired.

Recipe adapted from Family Meals by Maria Helm.

Article first published in the Washington Post on Thursday, December 20, 2012.