Chickpeas (garbanzo) are a staple ingredient in the Indian household. They are part of the legume family and, along with rice, are the reason why many dishes in my culture are gluten-free. We use them as whole legumes in curries (like channa masala), split in dhals, and ground into flour to make savoury snacks (like fritters and sev).
You may have heard the words channa, besan and gram — these are all Hindi words that refer to chickpeas. Channa refers to whole chickpeas, and channa dhal refers to split (usually younger, smaller) chickpeas. Whereas, besan refers to the flour. ‘Bengal gram’ is another word for chickpeas, so you may have also seen ‘gram flour’ being used.
Besides being yummy and versatile, chickpeas are highly nutritious. In Chinese medicine, they are considered beneficial to the pancreas, stomach and heart (if you think about it, chickpeas are shaped somewhat like a heart). They’re also high in protein and complex carbohydrates, and have more iron than other legumes. (Source)
Chickpeas come in many varieties, varying in size and colour (red, white, black and brown). The most commonly used one is the white kind. You can buy them canned (so they’re already pre-cooked and ready to use, but rinse first) or dried.
I prefer using dried chickpeas for the reason described here. I cook them in large batches and freeze in portions. But there is no harm in cooking with canned whole food ingredients once in a while — it’s better than eating junk food or getting take out.
Chickpeas are one of the larger and harder legumes — and, therefore, one of the more difficult beans to digest. This is because they are high in oligosaccharides — complex sugars, which are difficult for our digestive enzymes to breakdown. All legumes have oligosaccharides, but smaller beans (like adzuki and mung beans) and lentils have lower amounts — so they’re easier to digest.
Processes like soaking, sprouting and grinding (into a flour) help to break down the complex sugars and improve digestibility. For cooking, dried chickpeas need to be soaked overnight or, at least, for 12–24 hours. Soak in water with a dollop of yoghurt, whey, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. This will not only help with digestion, but also reduce cooking time. But despite soaking, some may still find chickpeas hard to digest.
To make chickpeas more digestible, soak for longer (around 24 hours), and cook with a pinch of asafoetida (hing) — an Indian spice that helps to reduce gas. You can easily find it in Indian grocery stores. Or you can use a 2 cm piece of kombu (a type of seaweed) when cooking. (Unfortunately, kombu is no longer available in Australia.) And when eating, chew thoroughly, eat with non-starchy green vegetables, and don’t eat them in large amounts. Chickpeas, like many dried beans, are small bundles of energy and a little bit goes a long way.
After soaking, rinse and cook in fresh water 4 times the amount of chickpeas. I also like to add a couple of bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat a simmer. I’ve found the cooking time for soaked, organic chickpeas varies from 2–4 hours, unless you use a pressure cooker. Do not add salt until almost cooked, as it can lengthen the cooking time. Drain and use as needed. You can freeze extras in portions.
Now, I hope you’re not chickpea-ed out with all this info! Because here’s a delicious, crunchy chickpea snack for you.
Recipe adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks Vegetarian by Alice Hart.
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas (either canned or cooked as described above)
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted (update: works better with macadamia oil and olive oil)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds (or 2 tsp ground cumin)
- 1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
- fine sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 170C/340F (150C/300F fan-forced) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
(If you’re using cumin powder skip this step) Lightly dry roast cumin seeds in a fry pan on gentle heat. Once fragrant, grind in spice grinder (or mortar and pestle) into a fine powder.
In a bowl, toss all ingredients together and spread onto prepared baking tray. Bake for 50–60 minutes, but remember to pull out tray every 15 minutes or so to shake the tray. This will help to get an even colour and avoid burnt chickpeas. Remove when crisp and lightly golden. Serve once cooled (they’ll be crisper when cooled). Store any leftovers in an airtight glass jar.