Chickpeas have a lot of names: garbanzos, Egyptian peas, chana dal, Bengal gram.
I call dry chickpeas my go-to winter staple.
While there are plenty of good canned chickpeas available in the grocery aisles (the organic brands are especially good), the truth is that chickpeas are so much better when cooked from scratch. Sure, they take longer to soak and simmer than other types of dried beans, but they are well worth the effort. (Technically, chickpeas are neither beans nor peas; they are legumes.) A benefit: When you cook chickpeas from scratch, you end up with a wonderful viscous broth that’s good in soups, stews and sauces.
Chickpeas are firm, creamy and satisfying, and they make a fine main dish salad, stew, soup and pasta. Freshly made hummus is the best reason to keep chickpeas on hand. The store-bought stuff in a plastic tub can’t compare to this traditional spread. When puréed with extra-virgin olive oil, lots of garlic, fresh lemon and a pinch of sumac, hummus is one of the easiest party foods to wow guests.
Chickpeas and whole grains are natural partners, especially in wintry dishes that are hearty but healthful. Farro, a nutty tasting, slightly chewy and relatively quick-cooking cousin of wheat, works especially well in a main-dish salad with tart cranberries or chopped apricots, and dark greens. Toss these with a bright lemon-spiked vinaigrette and the earthy flavors open up. Most grain and bean salads can be made ahead, held in the refrigerator for a day or two, so the flavors marry. They’re perfect for potlucks and holiday parties. Leftovers make a wonderful lunch.
It’s best to soak chickpeas before cooking. This saves an enormous amount of time on the stove and makes them far more digestible. Soaking them in plenty of water to cover for at least four hours or overnight does the trick. (Here’s where a pressure cooker can be mighty useful.)
Some cookbooks insist that the chickpea skins be removed, but this seems like too much. When my cupboard is stocked with chickpeas, whole grains, dried fruit, good oil, garlic and spices, I’ve got all I need for a sumptuous meal on those bitter cold nights when I’d rather not have to go out.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.