A couple of weeks ago, as I sped through the produce aisle at Whole Foods in my usual frenzy to find something for dinner, I spied a bin full of short, pale green, fuzzy pods the likes of which I’d never seen before. Turns out they were fresh garbanzo beans, a.k.a. chickpeas. You know, those tasty beans we're used to consuming from a can? A new book, Whole Foods Diet Cookbook (unrelated to the Whole Foods supermarket), extols the benefits of fresh, unprocessed, preservative-free foods. Not only are whole foods packed with more vitamins and nutrients than their processed counterparts, but they're kinder on your taste buds and waistline too. So, having been fully aware of the wisdom contained in this book's pages, you'd think I'd have snapped up those fresh chickpeas right then and there, right? Wrong.
Despite the fact that I am famously incapable of resisting unfamiliar produce, I inexplicably made it out of the market with nary a little green pod. I didn’t even buy any a few days after that, when I caught site of similar pods at the farmer's market. Nor did I buy any when I saw them at my neighborhood natural foods store. Time and again, I passed up this unusual find, and yet like a bad ‘80s pop song, I found myself unable to get fresh garbanzo beans out of my head.
Eventually my obsession, having grown to unnatural proportions, sent me scurrying back to Whole Foods, but the fuzzy green pods were nowhere to be found. I met with similar misfortune at the natural foods store and was disappointed, too, on a return trip to the farmers market. By now, more than a week had passed since I first caught sight of the little guys and my lust for them was verging on frantic. Perhaps their season is so short that I simply missed my chance? Or they are so delectable that local foodies had already snapped them all up? These haunting thoughts only served to fuel my desire. Whatever the reason they were so hard to find, I simply had to have some.
After numerous web searches and a few phone calls, I was tipped off to a fresh chickpea sighting at a produce market way across town (it turns out that their season lasts until September, so the recent scarcity remains a mystery). With no other choice, I put my infant son’s dinner on hold, loaded him into the car, and dragged him through rush-hour traffic, risking an embarrassing public meltdown, to hunt down some chickpeas.
Back home, I steamed the pods in salted water. Shelling them was great fun since the pods, when squeezed, made a deeply satisfying “pop” reminiscent not of bubble wrap as many bloggers have said, but of—to reveal another of my peculiar compulsions—rhododendron blossoms if you squeeze them just before they bloom. Once steamed and shelled, the pale green beans are similar in texture to fresh peas but with an earthier, slightly nutty flavor.
In Mexico, fresh chickpeas are eaten straight from the pod, which have been grilled or steamed and tossed with lime juice and salt. In India they turn up in curry dishes like Chana Masala. My recipe—tossed with tart lemon vinaigrette and topped with salty feta cheese—was right at home beside grilled lamb chops, and, it occurs to me, would be a clever substitute for the usual hummus on a Middle Eastern mezze platter.
Look for fresh garbanzos for your own experimentation from April to September. If you fail to unearth them where you usually buy your produce, try your luck at greenmarkets or ethnic markets. Hopefully you won’t find yourself schlepping all over town in a compulsive fervor like me, but rest assured, for me at least, they were worth the hunt.
Fresh Garbanzo Bean Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- 5 cups (about 1 pound) fresh garbanzo beans in their pods
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 ounces good French feta cheese
- In a large skillet, bring 2/3 cup water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and the garbanzos in their pods. Lower heat to medium, cover pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, or until beans are tender.
- While the garbanzo beans are cooking, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and olive oil in a jar and shake until well combined.
- When the beans are finished cooking, drain them in a colander and run under cold water. Pop the beans out of their pods, discard the pods, and drain the beans well.
- Toss the beans and scallions with enough of the dressing to coat generously. At this point, the salad may be served or chilled in the refrigerator for several hours (bring to room temperature before serving). Top with crumbled feta and serve.