Cool Beans

Canned chickpeas are an easy way to add delicious body to bubbling stews, or heartiness to vegetarian dishes

Helen Rosner

Chickpeas, native to southwest Asia, are a kitchen staple across the globe from the Middle East to Mexico. The legumes, also known as garbanzo beans, grow in small, bright green pods ready to blanch or sauté. Though you'll occasionally find fresh chickpeas at specialty markets, the sweet, nutty bean is usually sold in the U.S. dried or precooked and canned. I love the clean flavor and creamy texture of most dried beans once they're soaked and simmered, but when it comes to chickpeas, I prefer to work with canned varieties. Dried chickpeas can take hours to cook and soften in boiling water, while canned chickpeas are cooked under pressure at extremely high heat, so each little bean is plump, thoroughly tender, and ready to use when you open the tin. Most brands pack their cooked beans in a lightly salted water solution. It's edible, but I prefer to drain the beans and rinse off the brine before I toss a handful into tuna salad or purée them with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and tahini for a quick homemade hummus. Chickpeas are slightly richer in oil than most legumes, so they can add delicious body to bubbling stews like Portuguese cozido de grão (chickpea stew with lamb, pork, and veal). They also contribute heartiness and protein to vegetarian dishes such as three-bean chili. One of my favorite things to do, though, is coat the beans in olive oil and roast them in the oven until crisp. Dusted with smoked paprika and seasoned with a touch of salt, they're a quick and elegant snack.