Updated: Jan 17
These days, no drinks and nibbles party would be complete without a pot of hummus to dunk one’s crisps into. No buffet spread would be complete; picnics would be rendered an unmitigated disaster without it; and is it even possible to eat a carrot stick anymore if it is not topped with a creamy chickpea crown? Part of its rise to fame must surely be attributed to the growth of popularity of a vegan diet, where the chickpea has been held up as a sort of demi-God of the plant-based world. We can feel somewhat virtuous when we eat it, knowing that we’re making a choice that’s good for our health and good for our planet (of course we’ve also just smashed through an entire bag of Kettle chips as well as a whole pot of hummus, but it doesn’t matter, because hummus IS health, right?).
In 2013, The Telegraph crowned Britain as the ‘Hummus Capital of Europe’ - I’m still undecided as to whether or not we should feel a sense of pride or shame at this accolade- and cited that 41% of us were likely to have a pot of hummus in our fridges on a regular basis. So, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us have come to see chickpeas as a staple of our diets. Despite this, I realised that I have a fairly limited understanding of what to do with the legume. When I think about creating a meal around can of chickpeas, my brain immediately turns towards the Middle Eastern dip, or perhaps to an Indian style veggie curry, or maybe- if I’m feeling particularly inclined to a culinary challenge- I’ll have a bash at making some falafels. However, when we were in Lisbon in March, I sort of “rediscovered” chickpeas.
I wasn’t expecting to find chickpeas in Lisbon as it isn’t a food I associate with the Mediterranean. On reflection, this is absurd because there is so much cross over in the flavours of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, not to mention the fact that we live in a world where there is so much inter-mingling of food cultures and tastes across the globe. More than once on our trip were served chickpeas as a salad, mixed with roughly cut shards of parsley, lemon juice and fruity, green olive oil. Or delicately stewed in a light stock, once again complimented by the freshness of parsley and lemon.
One particular meal stands out in my memory. It was a warm, sunny day. (Actually, someone who lives in Newcastle may even go as far as to say it was a hot day alas, the fact that a lady pointed and laughed at my sandals as she trotted past in her parka assures me that it was not a hot day at all by local standards). Of course, as someone whose life decisions are almost always motivated by her stomach, I had already mentally bookmarked a place for us to stop for lunch. It was nowhere near the sights we’d been seeing that morning, and nowhere near the places we intended to visit that afternoon, but I would always rather make a detour for the sake of a good meal than settle for something mediocre for the sake of ease. After a considerable walk to the restaurant, we were a little hot and bothered and certainly ready for a glass of something cold. When we arrived at Taberna Da Rue Das Flores, I was a little deflated to find that there was no terrace, and there was already a queue for a table. We contemplated going elsewhere but the prospect of walking around aimlessly wasn’t appealing. So we waited.
Twenty minutes later, we were shown inside a long, narrow restaurant and seated at a small table by the door. Olives, bread and wine soon joined us at our table. Our starters were so simple it was glorious. I had a fresh, soft cheese –reminiscent of ricotta – with a red pepper condiment, and my partner had sardines of toast, with a mountain of sautéed red and yellow peppers on top. Both were a reminder that good produce needs little to no embellishment to make it memorable. Our mains came, one of which was a chunky piece of cod, sprinkled with paprika and sitting on top of a bed of chickpea salad. The dish was far from innovative or mind-blowing. It wasn’t pushing any culinary boundaries but to me it helped me reconsider the ways in which I could use that can of legumes which sat in my cupboard at home.
Since coming home, I’ve been making an effort to be a little more creative with my use of chickpeas; to create dishes that let the sweet, slightly nutty little legumes really shine. Just like the dish I ate in Lisbon, neither of the following recipes are reinventing the wheel, but they may just be a reminder that there really is more to the chickpea than hummus!
Poussin with Chickpea Broth
2 poussins, spatchcocked
2 tsp mild but flavoursome chilli flakes, I like aleppo pepper
1 tsp lightly crushed fennel seeds
1L good quality chicken stock
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 bay leaf
2x tins chickpeas
Splash of vinegar – ideally sherry vinegar but I used quality white wine vinegar
2tsp smoked paprika
Salt, pepper and olive oil
4 generous handfuls of spinach or 2 handfuls of wild garlic (if in season)
1) Heat the oven to 190c/ gas 5. Rub the poussins with a little olive oil, salt, the chilli flakes and fennel seeds and some freshly ground pepper. Place them in the oven to roast for roughly 20 minutes, until golden and juice runs clear. (Chicken joints could also be used instead of poussin). Leave meat to rest under foil until needed.
2) Meanwhile, lightly caramelise the onion and garlic in a large pan. Add the tomato puree and smoked paprika and allow to cook for one minute.
3) De-glaze the pan by pouring the chicken stock. Add the bay leaf and seasoning. Bring to the boil and then allow to simmer with a lid on for at least 20 minutes to give the flavours chance to infuse fully. Taste the stock to check that you are happy with the depth of flavour. Season further with salt and paprika to achieve a delicately smoky broth. If the stock feels watery, increase the heat and reduce it a little; if it feels to heavy, add a little water to soften it.
4) Strain the stock through a sieve to remove the onion and bay leaf and discard them. Put the stock back into the pan and bring back to the boil then turn to a simmer. Drain the chickpeas and add them to your simmering stock. Cook for 10 minutes to heat the chickpeas through. Check the seasoning again and season with salt if needed and a splash of vinegar to bring a vibrancy to the broth.
5) Just before you intend to serve, add the greens and allow them to gently wilt into the dish.
6) Ladle into bowls and top with half a poussin per person. Eat with chunks of quality bread to mop up the soothing, smoky broth.
Chickpea and Coriander Salad with Grilled Vegetables
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 can drained chickpeas
1 pack fresh coriander
½ pack flat leaf parsley
A generous handful of toasted hazelnuts
Juice of ½ lemon
Selection of vegetables to grill on the BBQ (or roast in the oven on a more inclement day) – I used red peppers, courgette, red onion and aubergine, all cut into generous finger width slices.
Olive oil, salt
1) Begin by firing up the BBQ to get it hot and ready to grill the vegetables. I would recommend placing your sliced vegetables onto skewers to accidental vegetable cremation. If you’re using the oven to cook the veggies, preheat to 200c/ gas 6. Season the vegetables generously with olive oil and salt.
2) Make a basic pesto by placing the picked herbs, toasted nuts and lemon juice and some olive oil into a food processor. Blitz until smooth-ish, adding olive oil to bring the pesto to the right consistency. I like it so that it just about holds its shape and dollops slowly and lazily off the spoon. Season with salt and lemon juice until the flavour is bright and tangy.
3) Cover the chickpeas with the coriander dressing and mix thoroughly. Grill your vegetables until tender, then mix them through the salad whilst they are still warm (but not piping hot). Set aside whilst you grill the meat or fish to accompany the salad to allow the smoky, sweet juices from the vegetables to begin to seep into the salad. Mix thoroughly again just before you are ready to eat.