By Susanne Merrett
Ah, the humble chickpea. It sits there all unassuming and quiet, yellow-gold and round, just waiting for its goodness to be unleashed.
Apparently, we have been unleashing the goodness of chickpeas for about 11,000 years, making it one of the earliest cultivated legumes. Starting out in the Middle East (in the areas of modern day Turkey and Syria), chickpeas eventually made their way to the geographic regions of modern day Greece and Italy. Given the conquering, invading, and generally socially unacceptable habits of the Romans, chickpeas quickly found their way to bowls around the world. When I look at one of those lovely little yellow-gold gems, I like to imagine a large iron pot hanging over a fire, surrounded by weary Roman soldiers, anxious to dig into a scrumptious bowl of chickpea stew.
Chickpeas are the second most widely grown legume (soy beans take first place) in the world, and offer the added benefit of storing well. Packed with dietary fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals, chickpeas have become a staple in African, Indian, Middle Eastern, and even Mexican cuisines. Many of the dishes of these cuisines are vegetarian, combining chickpeas with rice and vegetables. Like all vegans know, it's this combination of legumes and rice that provides the essential amino acids normally found only in meat based sources of food.
Since an army marches on its stomach (as Napoleon knew!), it is easy to see why the Roman army made such good use of chickpeas. It was certainly easier to carry around a bag of dried chickpeas than rely on a wayward deer crossing your path. A good soak, a little simmer, a few foraged wild greens, and voila, chickpea stew.
While I do love a good chickpea stew (I make mine with carrots, potatoes, onions, curry powder, curry lime leaves, and coconut milk), we are currently in the middle of a heat wave, and I am on the hunt for a nice cool meal. And so, I am paying homage to the Middle Eastern wonder of hummus. That delightful blend of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt that never fails to satisfy, even in the depths of winter (when normal people seek out hearty stews and soups, I still love hummus).
I like my hummus with some raw veg (carrot, celery, and red pepper are my go to choices) and perhaps some warm pita bread. However, hummus also makes a very fine filling for a wrap -- a thick layer of hummus, topped with a carrot raisin slaw, add some cilantro and a handful of fresh greens, and you have a simple, delicious, hugely nutritious, and portable meal. Of course, another handy use (and one of my hands down favourites) is garlic toast smeared with a healthy portion of hummus (best, and less offensive, if everyone present has some too!).
As usual, I like to twist things up. I add cumin and curry powder to my hummus, taking things to a different, but equally chickpea friendly, continent entirely. These Indian spices add another layer of goodness to an already wonderful dish and open up more mouth-watering possibilities. Instead of pita bread, have your hummus with Naan bread (available at Superstore!). Or, try your hummus with some oven roasted spicy potatoes instead of raw veggies. Or, add some hummus to your next batch of Curried Cauliflower Soup.
Chickpeas are equally at home in hot or cold dishes. Totally versatile and just begging for some attention, it's no wonder the humble little chickpea has been around for so long!
(For a simple Curried Chickpea recipe, click here.)