By Janet Helm, MS, RD
I’m crazy about the humble chickpea. This pallid orb, also known as a garbanzo bean, was once relegated to a lonely container nestled in ice on a salad bar. But thankfully that’s no longer the case. Now, chickpeas are gaining superstar status among legumes, and hummus has become the new salsa. I couldn’t be happier.
It’s quite fitting that chickpeas are gaining greater recognition in this country, considering that they’re the most widely consumed legume in the world. Originating in the Middle East, chickpeas are now trending up in a big way. Beyond the pureed chickpea-based dip hummus (which is widely available in grocery stores in a multitude of flavors), the fried chickpea-fritter falafel is even going mainstream. You know when Subway begins testing a falafel sandwich in certain markets that this is no fluke.
Now freshly picked green chickpeas – the moist, raw version of the legume – are the latest indication of the trend. In fact, green garbanzos may be the new edamame. Typically available only a few weeks a year in farmer’s markets and specialty stores, now you can find bags of fresh chickpeas in the freezer cases of some supermarkets and warehouse stores.
I’m thrilled to see chickpeas get more attention. Several recent studies suggest this pale legume deserves the limelight. Packed with fiber, protein, folate and hard-working phytonutrients, chickpeas have a lot to brag about. Australian researchers found that a chickpea-heavy diet helped bring down blood cholesterol levels, including LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Even more recently, the same group of Aussies found that chickpeas helped with glycemic control and insulin resistance — which may be valuable in the prevention and management of diabetes. Other studies suggest chickpeas can tame your appetite and help you eat less.
Beans are unique because they’re officially part of two food groups: vegetables and protein. Beans are the only food that can do double duty (although I suggest counting them more often as a meat-free protein source). Dietary guidelines recommend three cups of beans per week — but most people need to triple the amount of beans they eat to achieve this level.
The versatile chickpea is equally delicious in a warm, comforting soup or stew and in cold garlicky salads. Try layering chickpeas in casseroles, stuffing in pitas and stirring into pastas. With more people looking for ideas for Meatless Mondays, chickpeas are a low-fat, high-protein player that can easily lend a hand. Certainly you can’t go wrong with hummus. Yes, you can pick up pre-made hummus almost everywhere these days, but if you haven’t made your own, you’re missing out. Here’s my favorite version that I hope you’ll try.
Homemade Hummus Recipe
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
2 16-oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup tahini, well stirred
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
water (as needed)
1 teaspoon salt
Optional garnish: whole chickpeas, toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, paprika, cumin or sumac
Combine all of the ingredients except the water and garnish in a food processor and process until smooth. Add water to thin hummus to the desired consistency (about 1/2 cup). Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with additional olive oil to keep the hummus from crusting, and add garnish. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with pita chips and fresh vegetables for dipping.
What’s your favorite way to eat chickpeas? Share your best recipes in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking Community.