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Getting Chicky with Chickpeas | April 23, 2014

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are a legume and a native to one of the healthiest diets, the Mediterranean diet.  The earliest chickpeas were found 7,500 years ago in Turkey, so they are considered an old and traditional food.  Chickpeas are the main ingredient of hummus, which is made of mashed chickpeas mixed with oils and spices.  Hummus is a popular appetizer in the Middle East and Mediterranean region and has become increasingly popular as a dip in the U.S., with retail sales increasing to $250 million in 2013.  This is up from $192 million in 2007 and just 45 million in 1997.

The popularity of hummus across the nation has been very good to Idaho farmers.  Chickpeas are one of the fastest growing crops in Idaho; the Palouse region of western Idaho and eastern Washington is well suited to chickpeas due to the dry arid climate.  They provide two-thirds of the nation’s supply.  There are more than 150,000 acres in this region producing chickpeas today, up from about 12,000 acres in 2000.

Nutritional Value

Pulse crops (such as chickpeas) are cheap and loaded with protein, fiber and other nutrients.  One cup of cooked chickpeas contains 70 percent of our daily need of folate, 84 percent of the daily need of manganese, 29 percent of our daily need of protein, and 49 percent of our daily need for fiber.  Some research suggests that they prevent blood sugar from rising quickly and may help to lower cholesterol.  They are an excellent source of energy.

Chickpeas should get even more popular as school children are introduced to the food through the school lunch program.  The new Farm Bill that recently passed includes a pilot program in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend $10 million over five years to purchase pulse crops to use in school breakfasts and lunches.

Here is a delicious vegetarian chickpea recipe that is great served over a freshly baked sweet potato.

Braised Coconut Spinach and Chickpeas with Lemon

Served 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side

  • 2 teaspoons of oil
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger, from a 3-inch piece
  • ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice)
  • 1 dried hot red pepper or dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 15-ouce can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 14-ouce can coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

To serve: 

  • Whole roasted sweet potatoes
  • Cilantro leaves, to garnish
  • Toasted unsweetened coconut, to garnish

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is beginning to brown.  Add the garlic, ginger, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest and red pepper, if using.  Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the chickpeas and cook over high heat for a few minutes or until they are beginning to turn golden and are coated with the onion and garlic mixture.

Toss in the spinach, one handful at a time.  This will take about 5 minutes; stir in a handful or two and wait for it to wilt and make room in the pot before adding the next handful.  When all the spinach has been stirred in, pour in the coconut milk and stir in the salt, ground ginger and lemon juice.  Bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the chickpeas are warm through.  Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if necessary.

Serve hot over roasted sweet potatoes, with cilantro leaves and toasted unsweetened coconut to garnish.

Serving note: This is thick enough to eat on its own with a fork; it’s not terribly soupy.  But, it’s saucy enough to eat over pasta, rice, brown rice, quinoa, or another grain.  Reference:  http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-braised-coconut-spinach-chickpeas-with-lemon-164551