A fringe benefit of being a food columnist is that I can Google ‘I hate chickpeas’ and ‘eating chickpeas vs. going hungry, who wins?’ just to see what pops up and never be accused of procrastinating. I could be accused of including a negative bias in my searches, and that’s true. I could have substituted the word love for hate. I could also have made the alternative to eating chickpeas far more tantalizing. Except then I wouldn’t have mirrored how my daughters experience any run-in with this roundish, nutty, and pale mustard-colored legume. Or stinky little orbs, as they like to call them.
My older daughter sniffs at them like an unsatisfied but starving street urchin and launches me a desolate ‘et tu, Brute?’ expression. She’s ultimately a pragmatist though. Aware of the causal connection between eating the evening’s supper and enjoying a dessert invariably encourages her to slowly start picking away at them with her fork.
My younger one would refuse to be in the same room with them if she could get away with it. After surveying the evening’s dinner offering, she immediately makes herself a peanut butter & jelly sandwich if chickpeas are on the menu. I of course make her taste one, always…that’s the odious rule in our family, if for no other reason than to be regaled with yet another Meryl Streep-worthy dramatic protest. I’m surprised she doesn’t call child services. And she just may end up calling them at some point, because I intend on continuing to make them because, when prepared properly, chickpeas are delicious and filling.
They are also an excellent source of protein and thus reduce our reliance on animal meat, which is good for our planet. They are also low in fat and a good source of manganese, zinc, folate and antioxiants. And if that weren’t enough, they also decrease cardiovascular risk, regulate blood sugar and support digestive tract health. These nutritious jewels probably leap tall buildings in a single bound if someone could ever capture the moment on a cell phone.
I read on one website how one lady ate 1/3 of a cup of plain chickpeas every day for their health benefits, and I became so sad. Have you tasted a plain chickpea? It’s not exactly a transporting experience. And this poor soul was eating a whole bunch of non-transporting experiences every single day. I wondered if she ever considered cooking them to make part of her daily health regimen a little more tantalizing.
Never one to let a food-related musing slide, I started perusing health-oriented sites to see their suggestions for how to prepare chickpeas. Soon into my search I began to notice that much of their well-meaning advice treated chickpeas either like a crouton or a filler. Throw them on salads! Add them to soups! Hide them in brownies! Make hummus! According to this messaging, it seems that chickpeas can’t pull off being the main event on the plate, or at the very least be an equal player amongst ingredients. And how can they, when they are just thrown, plain, into things?
While it’s true that chickpeas possess a naturally nutty and buttery taste, they’re like any other legume. They need a little flavoring to bring out their best. Cooking them in spices, garlic or browned onions can make a world of difference in taste. This step is often overlooked, though. No wonder people can be ambivalent about them.
My goal for this year is to help my own daughters come around to enjoying these savory little orbs. I will experiment with all different spices, aromatics and vegetables to create winning combinations. Who knows…maybe next year I’ll be Googling ‘I love chickpeas’ and ‘eating chickpeas vs. going to Fiji, who wins?’ instead.
This recipe is an adaptation and a combination of 2 different recipes I discovered in an outstanding cookbook titled Indian Vegetarian, by Mridula Baljekar. Anyone grappling with the thought ‘what would I ever eat to be satisfied if I became vegetarian?’ should consider perusing this book for ideas. It would allay all fears.
making spiced chickpea stuffed peppers
Wash 2 15-oz. cans of chickpeas under cold water and drain well. Alternatively, you can use 1 cup of dry chickpeas that have been pre-soaked and cooked. Remove the outer skin from each chickpea. (While this is a mind-numbing task, it is necessary because the skins will remove themselves in the cooking process and create an unappealing element to the dish’s presentation.)
Wash 4 bell peppers of any color, dry them and slice off the tops. Using a knife, carefully remove the seeds.
Also remove the internal white membranes (which are bitter).
Remove the stem from each pepper top
remove any of the white membrane and then dice them up.
Heat 2 TBSPs of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Once the oil begins to swirl but is not yet smoking, add the peppers. Using kitchen tongs, stand them up and let them brown for 2-3 minutes. Then begin rotating them on their sides until all sides are nicely browned. Transfer them in an upright position to a small baking dish and set aside.
Return the skillet to the stove, still on medium heat, and add the remaining 2 TBSPs of olive oil. Once the oil begins to swirl but is not yet smoking, add ½ teaspoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon turmeric.
Cook the spices for a minute and add 1 deseeded and chopped jalapeno and a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add the chopped bell pepper tops and another pinch of salt.
Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables have softened. Add the drained chickpeas and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. This gives the chickpeas a chance to absorb a little of the spices.
Add 1 cup of water to the chickpeas and bring the mixture to a boil.
Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes. If using dried chickpeas, make sure they are tender. If not, add a little more water and continue cooking until they are.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Add ½ teaspoon garam masala, 2 TBSPs chopped fresh cilantro leaves and salt to taste.
Mix well and remove from heat.
Spoon chickpea mixture into upright browned peppers.
Transfer baking dish to the oven and lower the temperature to 375°F. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.