Friday, May 25, 2012

Chick Peas: Simply Summer!

At the first hint of warm weather in Northern California, chick peas become a favorite staple in my kitchen.  Few foods of such humble appearance equal the chick pea in flavor, versatility and nutritional value. With a little preparation, these homely legumes are easily transformed into a variety of savory dishes.

Chick pea history dates back to what anthropologists refer to as the "Pre-Pottery Neolithic A" period (9500- 8500 BCE), which means that humans have cultivated chick peas since before the invention of pottery cooking vessels.  Fortunately, twenty-first century chefs are not confined to cooking with hot rocks and open flame; simmering a pot of chick peas today is a much simpler task than it was in the Neolithic age.

It's best to use chick peas which have not lingered in your pantry for too long. Aged beans may not cook completely no matter how long they simmer. Pick over the chick peas and remove any small stones or debris. Rinse well and soak in fresh water for at least six hours or overnight. Soaked chick peas should require less than an hour to cook thoroughly. Basic cooking instructions may be found here:

Summer Chick Pea Salad:

My favorite summer chick pea recipes are those with the fewest ingredients. Left to my own devices, I can happily snack on chick peas with nothing more than a sprinkling of sea salt. Often I add just a few fresh basil leaves or mint leaves and little olive oil.  For something a bit more creative, start with a bowl of cooked and drained chick peas tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon or lime juice; add a few other seasonally available ingredients. Use the list below for inspiration:

olive oil
fresh lemon or lime juice
fresh basil or mint leaves
fresh marjoram or oregano leaves
baby spinach or arugula leaves
thinly sliced red onion
thinly sliced green onion
ripe tomato slices
ripe cherry tomatoes
sweet red, orange or yellow pepper slices
cucumber slices
kalamata olives
Hungarian paprika
hot red pepper flakes
toasted sesame seeds
umeboshi vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

For healthy portable meals to take to work or school, use only a small amount of lemon or lime juice and other liquids so that ingredients don't leak in transit. Whole cherry tomatoes can be packed separately.  The quality protein and other nutrients in a chick pea lunch will keep you energetic and satisfied for several hours.