A bean loved from Punjab to Palestine
- This everyday ingredient is the perfect mix of healthy and delicious
- Cooked chickpeas are a must-have for weekly meal prep
If you are looking for an ingredient that is the perfect blend of healthy and delicious, then chickpea, or kabuli chana, would be my top pick. Cooked into a hearty Punjabi chhole or a Tamil-style sundal, or in any manner of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern dishes, versatility is its middle name.
The one thing that annoys people about chickpeas is the planning required. It needs to go through a 10- to 12-hour soaking, followed by the cooking process, which, if you ask me, is hardly any work. It’s not like the chickpeas need babysitting through this process.
The skin of chickpeas is rich in dietary fibre components like cellulose and pectin, making it tougher to cook. The soaking helps soften this to some extent. There is often a debate on whether baking soda should be added while cooking, to reduce cooking time as well as yield softer beans. Adding a pinch of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the cooking water increases its pH, which breaks down the pectin in the skins more effectively. In dishes like hummus, this helps get the best end results—i.e. smooth and creamy consistency after blending cooked chickpea with the skin on.
But there’s a belief that adding baking soda could kill vital nutrients like vitamins—vitamins B, D, C, etc. However, in chickpea recipes, adding some form of acidity by way of tamarind, tomatoes, lemon juice, etc., neutralizes the pH of the overall dish, preventing the loss of any further nutrients.
In any case, you can choose to use or not use baking soda. Increasing the pressure-cooking time by 10 minutes or so will take care of it.
I often wonder why canned chickpeas are not as easily available in India as they are in many other parts of the world. They are cheap and offer convenient healthy eating, allowing for its use in recipes like salads, sandwiches and soups with absolutely zero planning.
For those into weekly meal prep, cooked chickpeas are a must-have in your arsenal. Cook a big batch (not until mushy) and keep in the refrigerator. Toss in a handful in your salad bowl. For curries, sauté with other ingredients and simmer for a while. It is the easiest way to add protein to a vegan or vegetarian meal and so much easier when it is ready for use.
As part of meal prep, you can also prepare a basic hummus and store it in the refrigerator. Any evening hunger pangs can be dealt with promptly by cutting up a carrot or cucumber and taking a few spoonfuls of this hummus to dip into.
Just when you thought chickpeas could not get more versatile, someone somewhere is baking a healthy brownie using chickpeas or using its cooking water (aquafaba) to make vegan pavlova. That the water in which chickpeas were cooked can be used to make delicious desserts seems magical enough for me to want to try it out.
SUPER SPEEDY WEEKNIGHT CHHOLE
1 cup kabuli chana, dried (soaked overnight, or for 8-10 hours)
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ginger, finely grated
1 tbsp chhole masala
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2-inch piece of tamarind, soaked in K cup hot water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek)
Drain and place the chickpeas in a pressure cooker. Cover with about 750ml water and pressure-cook for 15-20 minutes (keep on the lowest flame setting after the first whistle). The chana should be cooked through but not mushy.
Heat oil in a large pan. Fry bay leaves for a few seconds. Add the asafoetida and cumin seeds and stir. Once the cumin seeds start to splutter, sauté the grated ginger for 30 seconds. Fry the chhole masala, red chilli powder and turmeric for a few seconds in the oil.
Squeeze the tamarind soaked in hot water and add to the pan, allowing it to come to a simmer. Add the entire cooked chhole and salt to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce flame, cover and simmer for 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle crushed kasuri methi over the chhole and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with rice or rotis.
1/2 cup cooked kabuli chana (follow the same process but drain the liquid)
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste with oil)
2 tsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup iced water
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp mixed seeds, toasted
1 tsp fresh parsley or a pinch of dried edible flowers
1 fresh red chilli
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Blend the cooked chickpeas for a bit with garlic, tahini, lemon juice and salt by adding iced water bit by bit until the hummus turns smooth and creamy. In the last stage of blending, add the extra virgin olive oil.
Scoop and spread into a shallow bowl. Sprinkle the hummus with seeds, edible flowers and two-three slices of the chilli. Top with a final layer of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with crudites or crackers.
You can make this even without tahini, but tahini gives hummus its characteristic flavour. It can be found in gourmet food stores as well as online.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.