By Mary Ann Ebner
Growing up, I saw more chickpeas tossed in the trashcan than ingested for lunch in the school cafeteria. Students in my grade school, myself included, turned up noses at the little legumes with the pointed tops. Thankfully, palates change and though I can’t speak for those former classmates, I have grown to appreciate what’s become a primary family food source.
When the weather warms, I serve them in at least a dozen different combinations. If your concept of the perfect summer meal resembles anything like mine, the menu includes a plant-based dish that’s filling and full of flavor fand chickpeas stand up to the challenge. When the table comes together with simple preparations, we can enjoy impromptu feasts that may taste lavish even though they require little effort.
Getting lost in a stack of trusted cookbooks can lead to inspiration but some foods make it to the status of favorite by presenting themselves in the more experiential fashion—served by friends and eaten unhurried together. Since I tried a chickpea salad at my friend Maia’s, her garden variation regularly makes the cut for my own dinner parties and easy meals.
The savory salad packed with protein-powered chickpeas can be a comforting warm-weather dish to satisfy a range of food restrictions and preferences. If you’re interested in eating meatless meals not necessarily or exclusively by conviction but also for good taste and healthier living, keep these roundish beans on hand. Whether you refer to them as chickpeas, garbanzo beans or hummus — the Arabic word for the legume as well as the term for the puréed spread made from chickpeas — the staple will help build an earthy salad.
It hardly requires instructions, but for the best results, start with dried chickpeas. The canned version serves as a fine substitute to pull the ingredients together quickly but cooking the chickpeas at home and allowing them to cool in their own broth brings out a smooth nutty-ish texture.
During boiling, many of the chickpeas may separate from their skins. Others will loosen with a gentle rub. Discard loosened chickpea skins but there’s no need to spend time hand-separating each chickpea from its skin for this dish. If they don’t slip off without your labors, leave them be. Once the chickpeas have completely cooled, send them on their way to the mixing bowl.
The mix of fruit and vegetables in the salad shared here brightens the plate. Summer corn from the cob adds kernels of yellow while avocados that have ripened to a velvety stage, where they feel soft around the neck, green up the medley’s appearance. Choose avocados that are buttery and smooth on the inside. Fruit that has over-ripened will turn to mush during the preparation stage of cubing the avocados and the under-ripened fruit is far too firm to be the perfect complement to the chickpeas that make the dish so satisfying.
Once you refine your cooking technique to soften dried chickpeas, tenderizing a batch without allowing them to foam up and overcook, mix them with whatever components you happen to find at the farmers market. Cucumbers, squash, eggplant and peppers make great partners. Without crowding other textures and flavors, chickpeas can get twirled into a three-bean salad, layered in a curried stew or rolled around on a bed of baby greens dressed with vinaigrette.
Let chickpeas show their shape and tasty texture in salads that work like meals.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound dried chickpeas
2 medium ripe avocados (cubed)
1 small sweet onion (chopped)
1 clove garlic (diced)
2 cups corn kernels (from about 3 medium ears, which can be cooked ahead and chilled)
1 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
Juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Rinse chickpeas, drain and cover with water. Soak overnight. Drain peas, place in heavy pan with 4 cups water. Cook over medium heat until tender, about 1½ hours. Allow chickpeas to cool in cooking water before draining.
Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix cooled chickpeas with all other ingredients. Toss with dressing. Serve immediately or chill 1 hour.