Chickpeas & Me
Late August, I conducted my very first focus groups. I lead three homecooks through a lengthy questionnaire about weekday meals, cooking creativity, and canned tomatoes. They spilled their deepest mid-week meal secrets (bagged salad, boxed sides), and I was a staid backdrop, a machine firing questions.
Or that was the way it was supposed to go. But it was my first time, and I slipped up, not majorly, but enough. In the first five minutes of the interview, as a form of introduction, I asked each of the homecooks to tell what meal she made when she had 30 minutes (or less) to cook. The first woman said tacos, the second woman spaghetti, and the third woman…honestly I don’t remember what she mentioned, because after her, I introduced myself by way of fried chickpeas. When I only had 30 minutes to cook, I told the ladies (all twice my age), that I sautéed onions, carrots, and bell pepper in a hot skillet, dropped in garbanzo beans, and finally I scrambled in an egg.
Silence followed, along with quizzical, raised eyebrows. I could sense these women wondered just what I ate. Had I lived a deprived childhood, they were asking themselves. Maybe my family couldn’t afford to fry things like eggs or potatoes?
After the groups, when my boss and I sat down to debrief the session, she laid it out clear.
“Kazia, those women make tacos on weeknights.”
“I know, but I make fried garbanzo beans.”
“Yeah, but who the heck makes fried garbanzo beans besides you? No one can identify with you if you say you make fried garbanzo beans.”
“But it’s the truth.”
“It’s too sophisticated.”
Sophisticated. That wasn’t the first time I’d heard that. On other occasions, friends consoled my dating mishaps with “Oh, you just need someone sophisticated.” When I didn’t look trashy enough on Halloween as pregnant Britney Spears, my co-workers assured me it was because I was too sophisticated.
Sophisticated like a chickpea. My boss’ comment suddenly gave me a frame of reference for everyone’s favorite descriptor of me. I was sophisticated like a beige, earthy, mushy legume. I resented the comparison. I loved that mushy legume, its nutty taste, and dense, fibrous texture. But just think what dishes chickpeas make: Street-side falafel. Hummus. Even fried garbanzo beans. I was a fast food lunch, an afternoon kids’ snack, and Spanish leftovers.
Oh no, I couldn’t live with that. So ever since late summer, I’ve been looking for the chickpea recipe that’s actually sophisticated—but also unexpected and little spicy (the qualities that people forget to mention about me when they say I’m sophisticated).
I finally found the recipe in Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food. Chickpea cakes with a jalapeño-cilantro sauce. I imagined the Middle East and Mexico, and I made the cakes when my good friend Kim came over for brunch recently. We both marveled at how the sweet honey-infused, cilantro sauce brought brightness and flavor to the cumin and turmeric-spiced cakes. We loved that you could sink a fork into the golden, bread crumb-dusted cakes and scoop them up with a bite of salad so you got filling beans and crunchy lettuce in one bite.
Those were sophisticated garbanzo beans—and I currently have a freezer full them for quick weeknight meals. But I don’t tell the focus groups that. For them, I eat tacos.
Makes about 8 cakes
Adapted from Lucid Food
These savory cakes come together easily, especially if you are using canned chickpeas. Serve them with over a bed of torn lettuce, and you have a light lunch or supper, full of Middle Eastern and Mexican flavor.
For the Cakes:
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeños, seeded, ribs removed, and minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs, divided
For the Jalapeño-Cilantro Sauce:
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 jalapeño, seeded, ribs removed, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste
To Make Cakes:
Place large skillet over medium high heat, and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Heat until oil is hot and shimmering. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeños, mint, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Sauté for two more minutes so spices release their oils. Remove from heat, stir in chickpeas, and let cool.
In a food processor, blend the chickpea mixture until mostly smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl, and stir in egg, ½ cup of bread crumbs, and salt. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm.
Using a measuring cup, scoop out a generous ¼ cup chickpea mixture and form into small patty. Dredge patty in remaining bread crumbs, and place on cooling rack set over a cookie sheet. This will reduce the mess and keep the bread crumbs from getting soggy. Repeat until chickpea mixture is done.
Pour olive oil into a medium skillet until ¼ inch oil covers the bottom of the pan. Set over medium high heat. When oil is hot and shimmering, drop in several cakes. Brown cakes for one minute per side. Remove cakes, and place on prepared cooling rack. Repeat with remaining cakes.
To Make Sauce:
Combine cilantro, jalapeño, honey, lime juice, and olive oil in a food processor blend until desired texture. Season with salt.
For printable recipe, click here.