Cooking outside my comfort zone, Part 2: Fresh chickpeas

Chickpeas have a fibrous shell that must be removed before eating, although not necessarily before cooking.

Last week, I vowed to escape my farmers market rut and cook outside my comfort zone in honor of National Farmers Market Week Aug 1-7.

Farmers markets are spreading like (edible) weeds around the country. There were 5,279 as of 2009 by the USDA's count, up 13 percent from the previous year. The new figures will be released tomorrow. I'm betting it's gone up at least another 10 percent, to more than 5,800. What about you? Do you think locavores are still loco for fresh food, even in this recession?

For my first walk on the farmers market wild side, I fried up some squash blossoms. My Ethicurean comrade Marc, meanwhile, turned up the heat on some turnips and greens.

Encouraged by just how good those squash blossoms were, I next picked up fresh, in-the-pod chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, also from Catalan Farm of Hollister, Calif. Though I often make a vat of hummus for parties using dried chickpeas and use the canned ones occasionally in bean salads, I'd never seen this legume in its intact, fresh-picked form before, let along prepared it.

Chickpeas, a staple of Middle Eastern and Indian cooking, are apparently one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. They grow one or two to a fibrous green pod, which you'll want to remove before eating. When I asked around how to cook them, mostly I got variations on hummus or some sort of curry or stew. But I wanted to really taste the beans, so I was holding off until I found something that would let their flavor shine through.

Said Chrkaouia in his new shop.

Said Chrkaouia in his new shop.

In a happy accident, while on a walk in my North Oakland, Calif. neighborhood, I noticed to my shock that a tiny new grocery store had opened on the major thoroughfare on which I live. The American Natural Food & Café offers a limited, somewhat random selection of dry goods, including beans and pastas, along with essential household items, and serves coffee, pastries, and some Middle Eastern salads and sandwiches.  My husband and I started chatting with the very friendly owner, Said Cherkaouia. Because I'm nosy, I asked him where he was from: Morocco. A chickpea-shaped lightbulb went on in my head.

I explained my bean dilemma and asked for advice.

Cherkaouia became quite animated. "You should steam them, just a little bit, in their shells," he said. "Then just toss them with some olive oil, garlic, salt, lemon, and parsley. That is all they need. They will be delicious."

That sounded about my speed. Cherkaouia offered us Moroccan tea, and while he made it I looked around. I noticed something odd. In marked contrast to the other small groceries in the neighborhood, there was no mass-produced junk food in this store: no Skittles, no Fritos, no 2-liters of Coke crowding the cash register. I asked Cherkaouia why.

"Because that food is poison," he said. "Why would I want to poison my customers? No. Here I will only sell real food. You see the bananas?" -- he gestured to a small display of rather green specimens -- "I will have more fruit soon."

Resisting the impulse to hug him, I wished him well in his quixotic quest. I have serious doubts that such a shop can make a go of it around here, but I hope I'm wrong.

fmw_chickpea-1302A few days later, I followed his directions, or almost -- I decided to add some chopped mint from my garden as well. Quite honestly, the chickpeas were a pain in the ass -- almost as time-consuming  to prep as fava beans -- but even more of a revelation, taste wise. The fresh version blows the dried and especially the canned kind out of the water, literally: they are firm-fleshed, not at all mushy, with a nutty flavor that stands up well to the raw garlic and lemon.

I only wish I had bought more.

What about you? Have you cooked something farm-fresh outside your comfort zone this week?

9 Responsesto “Cooking outside my comfort zone, Part 2: Fresh chickpeas”

  1. Diana Foss says:

    Sounds like a great store to have in the neighborhood. I wish him well.

    If you roast the chickpeas in their pods, you can serve them like edamame, as a snack with drinks, and let the eaters shell their own.

  2. prettyPeas says:

    I'll have to check this place out--I've never noticed it despite having passed by relatively frequently.  I like to serve fresh garbanzos like edamame, mostly because I'm lazy and prefer to put the burden of shelling on the eater rather than the chef.  Somehow it seems easier, even if I am the sole eater and chef.

  3. I LOVE fresh garbanzo beans and also get them from Catalan. My favorite way to cook them is with pasta (rigatone) in the salted water together  (after shelling them). Then I toss both with olive oil, pecarino, red pepper flakes and a TON of fresh chopped italian parsley. So so so good.

  4. Cherie says:

    Whoa! Fresh garbanzo beans?! I wonder if I can find these in my neck of the woods. Sounds like something I need to try.

    Cheers.

  5. OK, I'm going to try roasting them AND cooking with pasta, both sound delicious and easy. I really didn't think I'd be buying these again, but I'm hooked!

  6. I've been dying to try fresh garbanzo beans ever since I saw them popping up around the blog world, but I can't seem to find them! I'm glad to know they are worth the prep time though.  I'll certainly continue my search, as your preparation sounds wonderful!

  7. Laureen says:

    NICE! This place is walking distance to me, and I've never seen it! And thanks for the push... I didn't know what those pods were on the Catalan table, and now I do. Hurrah!

  8. Johan Shaikh says:

    A traditional North Indian way of cooking fresh chick peas;

    Still in pods, they are roasted in high heat oven. (actually in a Tandoor, of tandoori chicken fame).
    Pods get burnt and turn black. Chickpeas get steamed inside as the pods pop.
    This imparts a great smoky flavour to the chickpeas. They are eaten as is from the burnt pods, while your hands, tongue turns black and blue. Kids in villages love it as a snack.

    A second version is: They are shelled after the roast. Add lime juice, fresh green onions/chillies to taste and cilantro. Tamarind paste can also be substituted for lime. If that does not blow your taste buds, add 'chat masala' available from Indian food stores. (Or grind cumin, fennel, mustard seeds, black pepper and salt together to go as a topping).

  9. Johan, both methods sound soooo good! Now I have to get some more!