One of the most popular and widely used legumes in the Middle Eastern diet is the chickpea. Chickpeas are also called garbanzo beans in Spanish cooking and Ceci beans in Italian.
The chickpea originated in the Middle East about 7500 years ago. It was first cultivated about 3000 BC and was popular among the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. It was not until the 16th century that the chickpea was brought to other parts of the world by Spanish explorers.
Today, chickpeas are popular among all parts of the world, more so in North Africa, Spain, and India, where the chickpea is a staple for India's largely vegetarian cuisine.
There are two types of chickpeas: desi and kabuli. Desi contains smaller, darker seeds and has more of a rough coat. Kabuli is a larger, lighter colored bean with a smoother coat.
Chickpeas come in a variety of colors—green, black, brown and red, though the most popular and recognized color is beige. They have a buttery texture and nutty taste.
There are many health benefits to eating chickpeas. Their high protein content is perfect for those wishing to replace red meat in their diet. Chickpeas are also high in fiber and help to lower cholesterol.
Chickpeas can be bought both dried or canned, are available all year round, and are easy to store. If concerned with the nutritional content between dried and canned chickpeas, unlike most other canned vegetables, chickpeas do not lose any nutrients when canned, so the choice of dried or canned is up to the buyer.
Dried chickpeas and can be bought already packaged or in the bulk bin area of your local supermarket. If buying dried, inspect the beans to make sure they were stored in a covered container, are whole, unblemished, and have no moisture damage.
Dried chickpeas can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for your kitchen for up to 12 months. Once chickpeas are cooked, they can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Today, chickpeas are used in a large variety of recipes. By themselves, they can be used in salads, soups or stews, or as a quick snack. In India, where the chickpea is known as "chana", a large number of recipes are based on the chickpea. The chickpea is the main ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes, like falafel, where it is ground and shaped into balls, and in hummus, where is cooked, ground and made into a dip.