Dear Readers, is there any food more versatile than the chickpea? This little legume has, along with the lentil, been the mainstay of civilisations all around the Mediterranean and beyond since at least Neolithic times, and if you want to get into a delicious culinary argument, just ask someone who makes the best falafel, or where to buy the best hummus. For Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and all the countries of the Middle East right through to the Indian subcontinent, the chickpea is one of the most important staple foods, turned into purees, fritters, pancakes and dumplings, flavoured with everything from garlic and lemon to tamarind and turmeric. In Italy the chickpea turns up as farinata, a delicious egg-free pancake, and in Mexico and the islands of the Caribbean it can be found as a spicy street food. If you go to the grocery shop you can have enough protein for several hearty main meals for less than a pound and chickpeas also freeze well once cooked.
I must confess to a special love for the chickpea, because my husband has probably eaten several tubs of hummus every week for the past twenty years. I have even caught him eating it surreptitiously by the spoonful straight from the fridge. Luckily, I would agree with Nicolas Culpeper the herbalist, who says that chickpeas are less ‘windy’ than dried peas, and more nourishing.
It occurred to me, though, that I had no idea what a chickpea plant looked like – as with so many foods, the actual production takes place somewhere else. It cheers me greatly that the English company, Hodmedods, is looking at restoring the reputation of some of the UK’s native beans, such as field beans, which are well-suited to our climate, but they have also recently started to grow their own chickpeas. Hooray! So maybe we’ll soon see these little chaps growing in our fields (although there are also some wild ones who have presumably popped up from spilled bird seed or human food).
Has anyone out there tried growing some of these beans? I somehow forget that what we’re eating are seeds, and that if plonked in a pot they might turn into something interesting.
As you can see, the chickpea plant looks very much a typical ‘bean’, with those pinnate leaves. The flowers are even more of a giveaway. Incidentally, the plant’s scientific name, Cicer arietinum, is thought to have given rise to the Classical name Cicero.
Chickpeas are a nutrient-dense food, with a 100 gram serving providing over 20% of an adult’s daily requirement for protein, fibre, iron and phosphorous. However, they have also been used medicinally: Pliny the Elder suggests that the way to treat warts is to touch each one with a chickpea during the new moon and to then throw the chickpea over the shoulder. One way to cure gout was to soak the feet in the water that the chickpeas had been cooked in. These days we know that this water can be used to make an egg-free meringue, which makes sense if you think about how full of protein this substance is. For the sceptics among you, there’s a recipe for vegan meringues here, and very pretty they look too.
Although chickpeas are very widely grown in cultivation, they come originally from a tiny area of Anatolia in what is now Turkey. They are thought to be descended from the wild chickpea, Cicer reticulatum, and there were several varieties even before the plant was domesticated. These days you can buy black chickpeas, green chickpeas and the more usual golden chickpeas. I’m fairly sure that if blindfolded I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
And finally, a poem. There is a poem by Rumi in which he envisions a conversation between a poor chickpea being boiled and the cook who has put it there, but it seems to have a view akin to ‘that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’, a sentiment that I loathe with every fibre of my being, along with ‘everything happens for a reason’. No, sometimes terrible things happen, and people are shaped in ways that hinder the rest of their lives by those things. But I do rather like this poem by Lauren Whitehead, which feels appropriate to the season, and mentions a tin of garbanzos, which is the US term for chickpeas, so I think I can get away with it. Let me know what you think, readers.
Not Everything Is Sex
BY LAUREN WHITEHEAD
Tell that to the palm
of this Black man’s hand
ever so slightly cupped
and carrying in its bend
the finger tips of another
Black man, both of them
arms stretching upward
toward the sky, measuring
their reach against one another
on a basketball court
in Brooklyn, in spring
And when I say spring
I mean bee-buzzing-near-a-pink-bud-
spring So you can’t tell me
it’s not sex Cause it’s not not sex
The risk of all this tenderness
all this giving of ourselves
all this inside on the outside
open, vulnerable I know sex
when I see it and I see it
everywhere: lips on the nipple
of a soft serve, an arm fist deep in
a grocery store shelf, digging
for the last can of garbanzo beans
It’s not not a ménage à trois
these three men snuggled
in the front seat of a moving
van, singing bachata
dancing from the hips up
in the window, open
throats open, their whole necks
to the wind, reckless
reckless, I tell you, full on
abandon So say what you will
about fluid, skin to skin
about the necessary things
that make the deed the deed
I don’t care cause it’s spring
and I’ve never seen anything so intimate
as this touch still taken
in the face of an apocalypse
Photo One by Serife Gerenschier (bluecherry.at), CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Two by H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Three by Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Four from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/vegan-meringues
Photo Five by By Sanjay Acharya – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3131388