Jewish World Review March 11, 2003 / 7 Adar II, 5763

EATING SMART: Sweet, nutty chickpeas
fill out soups, stews and spreads




By Sheldon Margen and Dale A. Ogar

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Chickpeas have been cultivated for more than 10 thousand years and are best known in India, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. However, they are also very popular in Latin America, where they are known as garbanzo beans, and in Italy, where they are called ceci.

Chickpeas are a real nutritional bargain. A half cup of cooked peas gives you 7 grams of protein, with only 2 grams of fat and 135 calories. In addition, you get 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance for folate, 30 percent of your daily iron requirement (although it is not as available as iron from animal products) and a lot of fiber, both soluble and insoluble.

There are two main varieties, known as desi and kabuli. Desi chickpeas are small and dark, but yellow inside. The more common kabuli variety is larger and beige throughout, with a thin skin. In India, chickpea flour is used to make pancakes, stews and curries. I Italy, where it is called farina di ceci(, the flour is used to make pasta and a dish that resembles polenta.

Fresh chickpeas are usually sold in 1-pound (or larger) bags. Try not to buy more than you need because older beans take a lot longer to cook.

Fresh chickpeas must be soaked overnight before cooking, though if you're in a hurry, you can put them in a pan with water that covers them by at least 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil for 2 minutes, and then remove the pan from the heat. Cover, and let the pan sit for an hour. When you are ready to cook the chickpeas, drain the pan water and use fresh water for the cooking.

Canned chickpeas hold their shape and flavor very well. They do need to be drained and rinsed to get rid of as much sodium as possible.

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Because chickpeas have such a sweet, nutty flavor and smooth texture, they can be used in many different ways. If you like hummus, you can make a lower-fat version if you pureeD the chickpeas with lemon juice, low-fat yogurt and a little sesame oil. A dash of cayenne pepper will give it a real boost.

Our new book, "Wellness Foods A to Z,'' suggests sprinkling chickpeas on top of a pizza, adding them to pasta sauces or tuna salad, or mashing them up with some low-fat mayonnaise and using them as a spread for a pita sandwich. You can also use chickpeas in soups and stews, or turn them into a soup of their own by combining pureeDd chickpeas with buttermilk and ground coriander, and serving it cold on a hot summer night.

Here's a low-fat dip for vegetables.

CHICKPEA VEGETABLE DIP

1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon chopped scallion
3/4 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cooked spinach, squeezed dry
1/4 pound mushrooms, trimmed
3 ounces snow peas, blanched
8 asparagus spears, blanched
1 cup broccoli florets, blanched
1/4 pound yellow squash, cut into 3 inch sticks
1 raw sweet potato, thinly sliced.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the garlic clove, and cook for 5 minutes. Rinse the garlic under cold water, and discard the peel. Process the garlic and scallion in a food processor or blender until minced. Add the chickpeas, ricotta, curry powder, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and hot pepper sauce, and process about 30 seconds or until smooth. Add the sour cream and spinach, and process until just combined. Transfer to a bowl, and serve with the vegetables as dippers.

Makes six servings, each of which has 163 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 124 mg of calcium, 3 mg of iron, 516 mg of potassium, 43 mg of vitamin C.

If it's still cold where you are, here's an idea for a hearty chickpea-and-escarole soup that provides as much protein as you'd get by eating meat, but with far less fat. It makes eight servings so you can eat some and freeze the rest for later.

CHICKPEA-AND-ESCAROLE SOUP

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
8 cups coarsely chopped escarole leaves
2-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (1-1/4 cups dried)
1/4 cup long grain white rice
1 cup frozen or canned corn kernels
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Black pepper

In a 6- or 8-quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat, and stir in the onion, garlic, thyme and oregano. SauteD for 3-5 minutes or until the onion is wilted. Add the escarole, chickpeas and rice, and stir to coat lightly with oil. Add 10 cups of water, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes. Stir in the corn, tomato paste and lemon juice. Return the soup to a boil; then cover, reduce the heat, and simmer another 30 minutes.

Add the salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce to taste and serve. Makes eight servings, each of which has 174 calories, 5 grams of fat, 68 mg of calcium, 434 mg of potassium and 11 mg of vitamin C.

Sheldon Margen, M.D., is a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the University of California at Berkeley "Wellness Letter.'' They are the authors of "The Simply Healthy Lowfat Cookbook,'' "The Wellness Lowfat Cookbook'' and "The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition.'' Comment by clicking here.

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