Destination Chickpea Transcript

Home of Man and Woman

GUESTS: A man and woman

[woman is using a computer, while the man is on the phone planning a vacation]

WOMAN: Honey, this Deluxe Middle Eastern Odyssey is just perfect: Istanbul, Jerusalem, Cairo.
MAN: Yeah, key word deluxe. It's $2,500 apiece. Believe me, we'll just cash in all our points and then ... [speaking on the telephone] Yes, hello? You, you do? Ten days including Damascus? That's fantastic. Points? [trying to find his number] Points, points, points, points, points, points, points ... 307,652. Sure, I'll, I'll hold again.
W: You should read this: "Discover the culture, the people, the art, the soul of the oldest civilizations on earth."
M: Yeah? Oh, Jerusalem for a week? What's that? No, I, I didn't realize there was a Jerusalem, Ohio.
W: That's it, we're going for the Odyssey. We'll just have to skip birthdays for the next decade.
AB: [bursts into the room] Halt in the name of food.
W: Who are you?
AB: I'm the guy who's going to save you from wasting a pile of dough on a dubious oversea adventure. After all, the best way to experience a culture isn't by going. It's by eating, and I've got your Near-Eastern passport right here.
W: Chickpeas?
AB: That's right, ma'am. The chickpea is the poster food for the entire eastern Mediterranean.
M: It is?
AB: You bet it is. With those babies in your pantry, you can wander far and wide without ever leaving the comfort of your home. And of course, you'll never run short of ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

The Kitchen

GUEST: Marcus Tullius Cicero [pron: KEE-ker-oh]

    Say hello to Cicer arietinum, which is technically a bean, not a pea. And it is a very, very old one, born in Turkey and Syria about 10,000 years ago. The bean spread, well really to any place with a warm, dry climate, becoming a staple in places like Egypt, across the rim of North Africa, even up into Spain. But the real expansion was in the other direction, to the east, especially down into India.
    Now although 20 different color varieties are cultivated world wide, they all belong to two main groups: the small desis—grown mostly in the subcontinent—and kabulis which are grown mostly here in the Near Eastern Mediterranean. These will be the subject of our focus today.
    Now, what is in a name? Well, the arietinum part derives from 'aries', or ram, because if you look at it just right, the seed does resemble a ram's head, sort of, kind of, maybe. As for the other name, it has long been held that the Cicer part was adapted from the family name of the famed Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, who, supposedly, had a wart on his nose the shape of a chickpea.

AB: [Marcus who has a chickpea on his nose] Now let me get this straight. Your great, great, great, great grandfather, or whatever, actually adopted the name "Cicero" because he somehow knew that one day, one of his descendants would have a wart like a chickpea on the end of his nose.
AB: Yeah, whatever. [pulls the "wart" off, revealing it to be fake]
MTC: Ow-ow.

    Now, before we prepare our chickpeas, we must always sort, okay? Any time dealing with dry legumes, peas or beans, I always look for small rocks which could be swept up by the harvesting equipment and could severely damage your harvesting equipment. [shows our "harvesting equipment", a set of teeth]

Your Harvesting

    Since they grow in dirt, I always give my chickpeas a rinse, even if I'm not planning on soaking them.
    Speaking of, like most dry peas and beans, dry chickpeas are hard as rocks. Most recipes call for softening them, either by cooking them for hours, or by soaking them overnight. Why so long? Well, it's beca ... Come here.
    [at the sink] Let's say for a minute that this water bag is a chickpea, and the cellulose packing chips inside are the starches within. Now, in most culinary cases—most—we need to soften the outer skin and hydrate and cook the starches inside. These are, in fact, two separate operations.

    All right now, when you place a chickpea in liquid, water doesn't just gush through the skin, all right? It passes through a structure called the hilum, which is kind of like a spigot where the seed was once connected to the pod. Okay, now if you just throw this in hot cooking water, there's a good chance that the hot water would go inside, swell the starches, or gelatinize them before the outer skin expands, and the chickpea would just fall apart or kind of explode. Soaking in cold water gives the interior starch time to hydrate slowly, while the outer skin softens and becomes more elastic. This takes time. Of course, if you know how to manipulate the time/temperature equation, you can just maybe cheat nature.


    Now, if extremely creamy chickpeas are desired, say for a purée, skip the soak altogether, and just go straight into a slow cooker, all right? One pound of our chickpeas, seven cups of water. Now if you know that you have hard water, you may want to use either filtered or bottled water, or, you can add, say, a teaspoon of kosher salt, which would function as a water softener to some degree. And, since the outer skin will soften even more in a slightly alkaline environment, we add a mere quarter teaspoon of baking soda, which also contains sodium, which displaces magnesium in the pectin, or it's kind of the glue that holds the outer skin together. The result should be a chickpea that's creamy and smooth, inside and out. Now, run your crock on high for four hours, or, even better, low for eight to nine. 1 Pound Dry Chickpeas
7 Cups Water
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Baking Soda
    Now, if the final destination is a salad or some other application in which the chickpeas should remain whole, then a seven-quart pressure cooker is the tool for the job. Nine cups of water this time to a pound of sorted, rinsed peas. And in this case, a teaspoon of kosher salt, not just for flavor, but because salt slows the absorption of water into the beans. Which, at 15 pounds per square inch of pressure, at what, 250 degrees Fahrenheit, could blow the guys to smithereens. In other words, the water moving into the beans gets to rise to the higher temperature afforded by the pressure, but the migration of the water is slowed by the salt. The result, fast cooking, whole chickpeas, all right? Now make sure that the total amount does not come above the fill line placed by the manufacturer inside the cooker. Clamp on the lid and bring to pressure over high heat. 9 Cups Water
1 Pound Dry Chickpeas
1 tsp. Kosher Salt

The chickpea is the most widely consumed legume in the world.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Street Vendor

    When the pot starts to hiss, or in this case, whistle strangely, in about 15 minutes, drop the heat to a simmer so that you just barely hear the hissing, and then set your timer for 45 minutes.
    [45 min later] Although most pressure cookers allow you to open a relief valve that goes off like a locomotive whistle, [demonstrates] I don't like having starch-laden water jetting around the room, as it tends to stick and dry on everything. And that is why I am a fan of the cold water method. Just put the whole thing in the sink and run cold water over it for just a couple of minutes or until the pressure lock releases on the handle. You know, essentially the water pulls the heat out of the vessel giving you fast access to the interior, without all the muss, fuss, noise and drama.
    [at the table] Viola, pressure-cooker chickpeas, perfectly al dente with skins intact. Now I will consider tossing these with my favorite vinaigrette, maybe some feta cheese, crushed olives, sliced zucchini, maybe some artichokes, some pickled peppers would be delightful. If I did that, I would have a beautiful, delicious salad, and it would be darn good for me. Because chickpeas are high in fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc and molybdenum, which is critical for ridding the body of sulfite toxin buildups.

    And of course, there's a lot of protein right in here, although it's not quite complete. Keep in mind protein molecules are constructed of smaller building blocks called amino acids. Some of these our bodies can produce. But there are eight that adult humans need that we just can't make. Namely, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These are the Essential amino acids that must be consumed in food, and of course, meat, fish, and eggs are all complete proteins, as are soybeans, the only vegetables that are. Chickpeas, well, they're kind of lacking in some tryptophan, methionine, and threonine. Luckily, we can complete the protein equation by marrying chickpeas to seeds and/or nuts, which are high in these.


    [at the cupboard] Now, as far as seed options, let's see, we've got poppy seeds. No. Mustard, no, sunflower, no, pumpkin, no. Fine. Ooh, sesame seeds. That's good, we could just sprinkle those right onto the salad or you could reach for another product. Tahini, a sesame seed paste available at most mega marts, and which often appears in Middle Eastern specialties, just like chickpeas.
    Now, in this [Middle Easter] part of the world, the two come together most often in the delightfully creamy purée called hummus, a dish quite capable of carrying one away to the casbah, wherever casbah is. Oh, by the way, this stuff [tahini] separates, so you have to stir it before you use it.

    Although hummus can be successfully concocted from any cooked chickpea, our slow cooker versions with their super creamy interior and soft skins are the perfect choice. So, drain and cool the entire batch, and then move one pound of the chickpeas to the work bowl of your favorite food processor. Now if we were actually in the middle of, I don't know, North Africa, we would respect tradition and grind our hummus by hand, but we're not. 1 Pound Cooked Chickpeas
    First up, two cloves of garlic, minced. Why cut the garlic first? Because if we just dump a whole clove in there, the blade would chew it to bits, releasing way too much of the garlic heat. By mincing it first, most of the pieces will actually avoid further damage. Next, one-third of a cup of well-stirred tahini. There we go. And then we're going to lid up and buzz up for 15 to 20 seconds, and then just scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is evenly processed, and hit it for another 15 to 20. 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/3 Cup Tahini
    Now we add the wet works. One quarter of a cup of water, and five tablespoons of lemon juice, freshly squeezed, please. It really does make a difference here. Now I'm just going to give that a stir, and then we're going to process for about another 20 seconds to smooth out those peas. ¼ Cup Water
5 Tbs. Lemon Juice, Freshly
    Now the final seasoning. One and a half teaspoons of kosher salt. I'm going to relid and this time, I'm just going to let the machine run, and then very slowly, drizzle in one-quarter of a cup of extra virgin olive oil. Slow is important because essentially we are forming a very, very thick emulsion here. If you just dump in all the oil, it's not going to happen. And when the oil is all in, let the machine run about another 10 seconds. 1½ tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    [AB is at the table wearing traditional Middle East clothing] Hmm, as you can see, making hummus is a transcendental experience, capable of transporting the diner to faraway lands without ever having to leave home. Like the hat?
    Now when it comes to serving hummus, pita, of course, is the classic. But I also like it on vegetables, toast, crackers, chocolate Easter bunnies. Sometimes I even brush my teeth with it. As far garnish, a drizzle of olive oil is always suitable.
    But for an authentic Near to Middle Eastern finish, consider a sprinkling of sumac, the ground berries of a shrub that should not, in any way, be confused with its American cousin, poison sumac, which is considered by botanists to be the single most toxic plant native to the U.S. The berries of Rhus coriaria, on the other hand, can be dried and ground into a spice that is both salty and sweet, earthy and sour, all at the same time. In fact, sumac is so lemony that it was the major source of acidity in Arab cuisine before the arrival of citrus to that region. It is easily acquired on the Internet. And although it is not required for hummus success, it is a small price to pay for full cultural immersion.
    Of course, if you really want immersion into Eastern kibble, you're going to have to hit the streets.
    [at street vendor's cart is in the kitchen] And when you do, ...

AB: [ordering] One please.

... especially in places like Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, you will encounter at every corner, balls or patties of ground, spiced, fried chickpea called falafel. Now if you remember these as kind of beany, gooey hushpuppies, from your low rent college days, we are about to erase that memory. If, of course, you actually do, you know, remember college.

AB: [hands the falafel back to the vendor] You know, here, you eat this. I've got to go cook.

Chickpeas were grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon.

The Kitchen

    Your falafel odyssey begins by soaking a pound of sorted and rinsed dried chickpeas, now that's about 2 1/3 cups, overnight in enough water to cover by two inches. And then simply drain them, and move them back into a bowl. Actually it could have been the same bowl but I like this one, along with some added flavorants. A half teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a half teaspoon also, of freshly ground black pepper, a teaspoon of baking powder, double-acting. Aluminum-free would be best. Two cloves of garlic that have been just coarsely chopped. It doesn't have to be perfect. Two tablespoons, approximately, of chopped parsley leaves, and four chopped scallions. That's about one and a half ounces by weight. 1 Pound Dry Chickepeas,
   Soaked Overnight
½ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
1 tsp. Baking Power,
    Aluminum Free
2 Cloves Garlic, Coarsely
2 Tbs. Parsley, Coarsely
4 Scallions, Chopped
    Now, if you smell those spices—oh, you probably can't—I have toasted one teaspoon each of whole cumin seeds and whole coriander seeds, see, until they're just starting to turn dark. And we're going to grind those traditionally, by hand. Oh what am I saying, I'm not going to do that much work. Here, break out the old electric spice grinder, that's the ticket. I keep one of these around, just like my coffee grinder. There. Now I don't want to turn this to powder. Just pulse a few times, to break up those seeds. There. If you don't smell them, you haven't ground them enough. Just toss them in, along with two teaspoons of kosher salt. One, two. There. And then just toss to combine. 1 tsp Each Whole Cumin
    Seed, Whole Coriander
    Seed, Toasted & Ground
2 tsp. Kosher Salt

    Time to break out the grinder. Now, I like an old-school hand-cranked model, fitted with the smallest die of the three that originally came with the machine. Now, this type of device creates a slightly chunky, let's say rustic falafel. If smoothness is more to your liking, you might want to go with an electric grinder, or even a grinder attachment made to go onto a stand mixer. Either will give you a more refined tooth if you like that sort of thing. Grind on.
    Now when the grinding is done, it's time to portion and shape. I use a two-inch diameter disher. It holds about one and a half to two ounces. Just kind of pack it into your hand and then shape it into an oblong, almost like you're making sushi rice, then line that out onto a sheet pan with some parchment paper. You can hold these for about two hours at room temp, or refrigerate overnight, before frying in two quarts of peanut oil heated at 350 degrees, in a five-quart Dutch oven. I would cook no more than four or five at a time, and it's going to take five to seven minutes, if you monitor your heat, to reach the state of golden brown deliciousness.
    Retrieval, well I like just a wire spider, but you can use a slotted spoon if you like. The resting place, a sheet pan topped with a cooling rack, and on top of that, just a couple layers of paper towel, to help wick away the extra oil. Then, there's nothing to do but consume.
    I like to eat them straight up, like hushpuppies. But keep in mind falafel is also the name of a sandwich, composed of a flat pocket bread, like pita, falafel, and some kind of salad or cabbage, dressed with a sauce, such as one based on either yogurt or tahini. It takes practice to eat such a mighty sandwich, but keep in mind; chickpeas are loaded with nutrition, so there are worse things in the world to practice on.

Falafel are sometimes called "Israeli hot dogs".

    Well, we have traveled far and wide on our chickpea odyssey, but perhaps you have a taste for something more out of the way, more exotic. Perhaps something from Corum, in Turkey, where young and old alike munch a crunchy treat called a leblebi, a curious dish, with an even curiouser traditional recipe.


    Step one, build a wood fire on stones or fire bricks.
    Step two, roast the fresh green chickpeas in the hot coals until brown.
    Step three, stash in goat hair cloth bags for two days.
    Step four, repeat steps two and three.
    Step five, spread out on fabric to dry in a cool place for two weeks.
    Step six, moisten.
    Step seven, put back in the sacks for one day.
    Then step eight, roast one more time.
    Then step nine, remove the burnt husks.

The Kitchen

    Our sane and non-tortuous version of this insane, tortuous dish begins as did our falafel, with a pound of sorted, rinsed, dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in enough water to cover by two inches. The next day, drain, return to the original vessel, and set aside. 1 Pound Sorted, Rinsed,
    Dried Chickpeas, Soaked
    Overnight & Drained

America's top chickpea producing state?

    Now, we make up our dressing. It is a standard vinaigrette. And when I make a vinaigrette, I like to do so in a cocktail shaker, a two-sided shaker called a Boston shaker. I also include a secret weapon, namely, two stainless steel ball bearings, agents of agitation, kind of like the little ball inside a can of spray paint.

    Now, for the software, a quarter of a cup of red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of good-quality olive oil, one mere teaspoon of smooth Dijon mustard. That should do it. And the same amount, a teaspoon, of kosher salt. There we go. Now, cover and shake. ¼ Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1 tsp. Kosher Salt

    Pour the vinaigrette onto the prepped chickpeas, and then toss to combine, or just cover it up like that and give it a shake. Now these are going to go down onto a half sheet pan, dressing and all, and it is important that you get them spread out into a single layer. Good.

    [at the oven] Roast in a 400 degree oven, retossing every 15 minutes, until the peas are G.B.C., golden brown and crunchy. Should take an hour to 65 minutes.

400 Degrees

Chickpea by any other name:
French – pois chiche
German – kichererbsen
Spanish – garbanzo
Italian - ceci

    Now when the time is up, remove the golden brown and delicious chickpea nuttiness to a heat-proof mixing bowl of some type. And be careful, they are extremely hot. And we're going to add the very last dose of flavor. Namely, one teaspoon of red wine vinegar, and half a teaspoon of kosher salt. You could use, of course, sea salt if you like. That would be traditional. Then toss to combine, just kind of like tossing nuts. Perfect. [one falls out of the bowl] Oh, get that one. 1 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar
½ tsp. Kosher Salt

    [eating] Mmm, hmm. Since I'm a southern boy, I like them out of little paper bags, like boiled peanuts. Go ahead, try them.
    So, world voyagers, I hope that we've convinced you that although international travel is fraught with discomfort and danger, as long as you've got chickpeas in the pantry, you'll always be close to the exotic and distant land known as ... [shows a suitcase with a Good Eats sticker] See you next time.

Home of Man and Woman

AB: [enters] Front door?
M & W: [points]
AB: Thanks.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 10/03/2011