It’s true I’ve done the rutabaga no favors in my house by using its name as an expletive, though I did raise its social capital a notch recently by pureeing it with coconut milk. But the tarnish on its reputation around here is a smudge compared with the chickpea. The chickpea is mired in a PR disaster in my house. I actually have done nothing active to lower the chickpea in my children’s estimation; in fact, we have a dog named after it, and I also use ceci flour here and there to very satisfying effect (little do they know). But each one of them, if asked to name a food they loathe, will finger the garbanzo bean. It’s reflexive; my son actually kind of likes them, but like the young kangaroo in Horton, he just pipes up with a “me, too!” How did this admirable legume sink so low?
Part of the trouble is that none of them like hummus (if you do, definitely try making it with preserved lemons; I learned early in life by living near a Middle-Easern market that maximum amounts of lemon, salt and olive oil are what makes hummus rock and roll, and if you can work some cumin and green olives in there, all the better). The rest of the trouble is mindset, I think. I’ve seen my offspring tuck greedily into foodstuffs that depend almost entirely on the chickpea in some unrecognizable form (falafel, pakora, etc). A portion of the trouble may be the taste of the canned chickpea, and that is why I have called us all here today.
Canned beans have always been a go-to solution for me–one can on hand and you are moments from a burrito, a nacho, a hearty pasta with greens or a deeply satisfying salad. But the BPA issue took the fun out of that for me, and once it did, once I started making some effort to start with dry beans (which, when cooked, freeze beautifully), then the cost savings and the flavor improvements were not lost on me. I’ve got a pinto bean recipe in the chute for you for next week, so make some room in the freezer for that. Just so I don’t get too bad a rap as a buzz-killing naysayer, I will report that there are canned foods available without BPA. But they still taste like canned food, still cost more, and still suck you in to the packaging undertow, with all its attendant environmental issues, and the solution to all of this is not a terribly arduous one. It’s not like shooting your own pork chops, is what I am saying. You can cook a mondo pot of beans over the weekend, when you will be home for a few hours at a stretch, and set yourself up for a week of 30 minute stove-to-table fun.
Meanwhile, a word about seaweed. Adding a strip of dried kombu seaweed, commonly available in any decent Asian section of a market, or in your local Healthe Foode Shoppe, to the cooking water will enhance the flavor and tenderness of any dried legume. Kombu, an essential ingredient in Japanese dashi stock, is high in natural glutamate, which is the root principle of the elusive umami flavor everyone is yapping about these days, and is the reason some whiz kid cooked up its frankencousin, MSG, in a lab and unleashed it on the public all those years ago. It makes stuff taste better.
Seaweed or no, a huge leg-up in terms of tender beans is to cook them slowly (extensive boiling toughens the skins, as does salting before they are cooked through) and covered. Even my friend Julie, known to all who love her as the undisputed Queen of the Bean, has abandoned her once-favored pressure cooker method to favor the dutch-oven-in-the-oven method. This can be approximated nicely with a crock pot, if you own one, which I don’t.
However you do it, when you do it I recommend you double it, and freeze the extra beans in one- or two-cup containers. Your future self will thank you.
This recipe was inspired by one in an Italian magazine, which featured octopus. The first step in the recipe was “cut the tentacles cross-wise into one-inch rounds,” and I did get a perverse little mental lift out of imagining the little children coming in to the kitchen to see what was for dinner that night. Chickpeas AND octopus legs! Mwa ha ha. But then I remembered I was working for the chickpea, and moved on.
chickpea soup with pasta and greens
for the beans:
2 c dry chickpeas, soaked overnight or by the quick method
1 strip kombu seaweed
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
water to cover
some fresh thyme, if you have it
for the greens:
1 bunch of kale, washed, center ribs removes, coarsely chopped
1-3 cloves garlic, minced
2T olive oil
a large handful of chopped parsley
zest of half a lemon
about a pound of pasta–a mixture of shapes is the most amusing, and I made this with a GF pasta
copious amounts of fresh grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 325. Drain the beans of their soaking water and bring them, the seasonings and the new water to a slow boil in a heavy pot that takes a lid. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, stick it in the oven, and go on about your day. Periodically check to make sure the beans are still under water, and maybe give a stir. Depending on the age of your beans, 1-2 hours should do it. Sample six beans from different parts of the pot; when they are all push-apart tender, they’re done. Don’t lose faith. You can’t ever know how old a bean you’ve purchased, and older beans take longer to cook.
Remove the kombu. Puree the chickpeas and about 1.5 cups of their liquid and the cooked garlic until quite smooth in a blender and return them to the cooking pot; work in batches if the beans are still hot, and adjust the final consistency with water or the broth of your choosing until you have a thick but soup-like puree. Salt to taste, and if you have a few springs of fresh thyme, throw those in there to flavor the soup while it heats. You can pause at this point; in fact, like all bean dishes, the flavor and texture just improve with waiting all day or overnight.
When you are ready to eat it, put the pot over a low flame and stir occasionally while you get everything else ready. If you have paused overnight in the fridge, yo may need to thin it a little.
Cook the pasta in plenty of well-salted water, drain it and toss with a little olive oil.
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and when it is hot throw in the garlic, stir once, and then add the greens. If they do not have washing water still clinging to them, splash in a few T of water. Stir well, and cover briefly. When the greens are tender but still bright, a few minutes at most, remove from the heat and stir in the zest and parsley.
To serve it, ladle the hot soup out, drop a cup or so of cooked pasta into the bowl, hit it with a scoop of greens, and garnish with a squeeze of lemon or scratch of parmesan.