Odd couplings using savory and spicy flavors in unexpected places are trendy these days, from pairing sea salt with chocolate and caramel, to sriracha-flavored popcorn and almonds. Dried legumes eaten as snacks is also trending, although the idea has deep Mediterranean roots, particularly for chickpeas.
I first encountered the surprise of roasted chickpeas for munching at a Middle Eastern grocery store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. In the 1970s, a gang of us – single and adventurous – were regulars at the Lebanese, Yemeni and Turkish restaurants lining Atlantic Avenue. After feasting on grilled kebabs, baba ganoush and warm pita, exotic eating at that time, we wandered into one of the neighboring food stores, drawn by the fragrant aroma of cumin and coffee beans wafting from its narrow aisles lined with bins and barrels.
A clerk, one time, scooped some roasted chickpeas from a barrel. Dropping a few into my palm, he gestured for me to eat them. “A snack,” he explained, clearly used to questioning looks. Chomping down, I feared might chip a tooth on the salted, rock-hard beans.
Now, seasoned roasted chickpeas are sold even at Costco. Happily, all the brands I have tried are pleasantly crunchy, unlike the ones I first had on Atlantic Avenue. Chickpeas are a good source of fiber and protein and I like their nutty taste, but the dried ones being sold today are costly, I decided to try some recipes I found online to make my own spice-coated versions.
The results were more often mushy than crisp, although one recipe produced flavorful marbles. Experimenting, I found that:
- The chickpeas must be well dried. Blot them using several changes of paper toweling until all the chickpeas look dull all over.
- Some brands of canned chickpeas are firmer than others. The firmer the better, so experiment, using different brands until you find one with firm chickpeas.
- Roast until the chickpeas look very dark brown. They’ll look overdone long before starting to taste burnt.
- Even crusty chickpeas soften as they stand, so serve them as soon as possible.
Any leftover chickpeas, even when they soften, are delicious added to salads, tossed into soups, and sprinkled on top of pasta. I picked up this last idea in southern Italy, where pasta with chickpeas is popular.
Finally, Spanish restaurants and tapas bars serve killer crisped chickpeas. They are deep fried, not roasted. I happily prefer my slightly chewy, well-spiced chickpeas to all those oily calories.
Here’s the recipe: Roasted Spiced Chickpeas.