Chickpeas: From Cicero's Family To Yours
One evening many years ago I was sitting with family at The Times restaurant in Slidell.
With a cool location at a former train station, The Times was known for their burgers. The fried sides were also a thing.
For the first time in our collective memories, we were having fried pickles. Served with a house made remoulade sauce, we were gobsmacked.
Crunchy and acidic, the pickles were amazing when dipped into the rich and creamy remoulade.
Chris, my niece Sommer's husband, was really intrigued by thoughts of unusual things that could be fried. Understand this was way before carnival food shows were ever on television.
While we listed food items a la' Forest Gump, my son, Max, attempted to eat the ginormous burger that he had insisted on ordering.
Patrons who finished the entire burger were photographed, and their pictures featured on the restaurant's wall of fame.
We thought there was no way that preteen Max would be able to finish the sandwich, but he really, really wanted to be on that wall.
"Oreos, candy bars, zucchini, sweet potatoes, onions."
While we paid attention to Chris (who has since become an amazing chef), no one was watching Max sneaks chunks of the sandwich into my mother's purse.
"Rice, noodles, bananas."
Mom's purse grew as Max's sandwich disappeared.
He smiled when the restaurant took his picture for the wall. We all laughed when we got home and watched Mom dig the burger bits and bun parts out of her purse.
While Max achieved his goal that day, there were many fried items that we missed.
One such food that just recently came to my attention is chickpeas.
Chickpeas ground up and made into falafel have been around for 1000 years. First thought to have originated in Egypt with the Copts, they then brought the dish to the rest of the Middle East. It was likely used as a replacement for meat during lent.
A simple search titled, "historical origin of falafel," brings up other fascinating information
"What does it mean when a girl says falafel," is one question
"Why is my wife not interested in me sexually," is another.
I'm not touching these with a ten foot pole. It's just another example of how Googling and my personal favorite, The Urban Dictionary, can send me into a vortex of idiotic information that sucks my attention like quicksand.
Ignoring the more salient chickpea links, I learned some other things.
The famous orator, Cicero, was named from the Latin word for chickpea. This was either because his family grew them, or because one of his ancestors had a cleft or indentation on his face that resembled a chickpea. Believe whatever version you wish.
Evidence of people cultivating chickpeas over 7,500 years ago was found in Turkey. That's before man began to make pottery.
Chickpeas are the world's second most largely grown legume, and are also known as garbanzo beans, Kabul chana and Egyptian pea.
They are digested by the body slowly, making them a healthy, slow-releasing carbohydrate that helps control blood sugar levels.
A high fiber food, chickpeas provide an abundance of essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, folate, phosphorus and B vitamins.
None of this would matter if chickpeas didn't taste good. Not only do they taste great, but they are a great canvas for other flavors.
Vegetarians and vegans have known this for a long time, utilizing chick peas as substitutes for proteins like chicken or tuna.
My first experience with this was right before covid, when I stopped for lunch at a vegan market and restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
There I had a vegan "tuna" melt made with a dilled chickpea salad, melty cheese and toasty bread.
It was fantastic.
Immediately I went home and played with the idea of different sandwich fillings I could make with chickpeas.
There is a curried chicken salad that I love, made with chopped apples, regular and golden raisins, a little yellow mustard, curry powder and mayonnaise.
The chef at The American Stanhope Hotel in New York taught me this recipe back in the summer of 1984, when I worked for a short time as a waitress at their terrace restaurant.
My friend, Gretchen, helped me get the job, and we worked alongside each other all summer long.
I will never forget the day she told me that the guy she was serving looked like he might be a friend of her father's, but she couldn't think of his name.
I nearly swooned when I saw that it was Al Pacino.
I loved the job because not only did I get to meet famous people like Al Pacino and Penny Marshall (both super nice), but the chef took me under his wing.
During slow times he would explain dishes such as cioppino to me, and demonstrate things like whipping cream by hand.
This was 36 years ago. At that time their chicken salad sandwich cost $16.00, a veritable fortune. It was served on caraway studded Irish soda bread, another treat I had never had before.
The curried chicken salad is especially good on soda bread, as were the chickpeas. The chickpea salad tasted much better, I found, if made the day before.
I also tried a Southern style chickpea salad with red peppers and paprika, served both on a bun and stuffed into an avocado.
My next foray into chickpeas as an entree came when I was having friends over for dinner, one of whom is a vegan.
I had some baharat spice mix that had been sitting in the pantry, and wanted to try it out.
The couple and I made a vegan feast that night, using chickpeas and the baharat in a Moroccan stew.
The dish was warm, with sweet and spicy undertones. Fantastic served over rice, it is a recipe I have since made multiple times.
When my son, Max, returned from serving at a monastery for the winter retreat, he mentioned that he was eating more vegetarian.
I found a recipe online for chickpea korma, which we all loved.
In addition to the stews and salads, I often utilized chickpeas for hummus.
While reading a post at soulfulvegan.com, I learned of a little trick to soften the chickpeas.
After soaking the dried beans overnight, you simply sauteed them in a little baking soda before boiling.
This resulted in an extremely tender pea which is perfect for blending into a smooth hummus.
As I tried this method for the first time, there was something about the smell of the baking soda and peas that reminded me of a New Orleans seafood boil.
It was strange, but led me to a thought. Why not boil the chickpeas in some Louisiana seafood boil seasoning, along with the vegetables that are normally tossed in with shrimp or crabs?
I had some liquid Zatarains in the cabinet, so that went into the chickpea pot along with potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, garlic and lemon.
I followed the proportions on the bottle for the amout of water to seasoning ratio, but greatly reduced the amount of salt.
If there had been corn on the cob in the house, I would have added that too.
I'm sure I'm not the first person to ever do this, but I can tell you for me this was a revelation.
Max, Sam and I finished the entire recipe in one sitting.
This was unfortunate because there are many "after the boil" recipes out there which utilize the boil flavored potatoes and corn.
Though my next thought was to try some of those recipes, I came across someone coating whole chickpeas with flour and then frying them, calling it "stoner food."
Though the boys and I will frequently coat chickpeas with spices and then roast them in the air fryer, I had never before seen someone fry them whole.
If they were good coated with flour, I thought, then they would be even better with a cornmeal coating.
As luck would have it, I received a lovely surprise gift of Arnaud's Creole Mustard and Arnaud's Remoulade Sauce within a day of soaking and boiling a pot of dried chickpeas. ( Thank you, Aunt M).
Treating the chickpeas exactly as I would seafood, I soaked them in an egg and milk mixture seasoned with salt, black pepper and some Crystal hot sauce.
Next, I dredged them in a mixture of cornmeal, salt, pepper and a little cayenne.
Preparing a plate with paper towels in which to drain the fried peas, I then pan fried them at a medium high temperature in about a quarter inch of hot oil.
Served alongside the remoulade and a mixture of the Creole mustard and mayo, they disappeared before they were even cooled.
Covid has kept me away from my Nola family for far too long. But you can bet that the next time I'm with them, Chris, Sommer and I will be revisiting the "what can we fry" discussion.
In the meantime, I kept thinking about po-boys.
If cornmeal fried chickpeas were delicious on their own, wouldn't they be even better layered on a po-boy?
Max said, "Do it."
Forgetting to soak the chickpeas overnight, I picked up a couple of cans from the grocery store.
Because the scratch beans had been prepared with the baking soda, I thought that the harder chickpeas in a can might also be a better texture.
Though they fried up beautifully, the texture was not as tasty.
It also made a gigantic mess. Getting many tiny, fried chickpeas to stay on a sandwich was akin to Rory's game of Don't Spill the Beans.
Once again I found my floor covered in tiny round objects. Only this time they squished when you stepped on them.
They say the universe keeps sending you the same lesson until you get it. For the life of me, I can't understand why my lesson keeps being tiny round things under my feet.
I will definitely be frying chickpeas again as an appetizer, but as far as po-boys go, I'll be sticking to shrimp.
Have you ever fried anything unusual? I would love to hear about it. Drop us a note in the comment section below.
1 can drained and rinsed chickpeas
1/3 cup small dice red pepper
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 heaping teaspoon granulated garlic
1 scant cup vegan (or regular) mayonnaise
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Half of a lemon, juiced
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the salad about 15 times, so that some chickpeas are left whole, while others are crushed.
Chill for at least an hour before serving.
Makes a great sandwich filling, topped with sliced avocado or red onion. Lightly spread a hamburger bun with butter or margarine and toast until lightly browned.
The salad also makes a great stuffing for avocado, or as a topping for a tossed salad.
Contrasting textures and flavors make this dish. The warm, toasty bun glimmering with hot butter. Cool, creamy chickpea salad punctuated by the crunch of celery, sweetness of red pepper and the smokiness of the paprika. A schmear of lush avocado on the bun...
1 lb of chickpeas soaked overnight
3 teaspoons baking soda
Drain chickpeas. Saute in baking soda for 3 minutes over high heat.
2 cups of chickpeas
2 quarts of water
1 tablespoon salt
3 quartered medium red potatoes
1 onion, quartered
1/2 head garlic, unpeeled
1/2 cupped sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 tablespoon of Zatarains Seafood Boil
Bring chickpeas, water and salt to a boil. Add all other ingredients and bring back to a boil. When at a rolling boil, turn to low. Cook for about another 20 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the potatoes. Drain and enjoy.
Chickpea "Tuna" Salad
Chickpeas from the above recipe. Add vegan mayo, lemon juice and fresh dill. Add chopped onions and celery, if desired.