Ingredient Driven: Chickpeas

The humble chickpea.

Far and away my favorite legume.  They began for me as this vaguely healthy addition to salads at the family dinner table.  I liked them because they had been accompanied by a salty broth in the can from whence they came.  A salad without them was just lettuce, but with chickpeas it became dinner.  Years later I tried something called hummus, and upon learning it consisted largely of my funny-named salad fixin’ – I was sold.

Chickpeas are the earliest known cultivated legumes.  If you most readily associate them with middle eastern food, that is because we can date them as far back as 7500 years in that region as a staple food ingredient.  Also known as ceci or garbanzo beans, they come in different shades.  Most easily recognized is the larger, lighter Kabuli chickpea.  The Desi chickpea, seen more often on the Indian subcontinent, is smaller and darker, sometimes referred to as the “black chickpea.”

These days, chickpeas from the can are fine in a pinch, but I prefer stocking up on them dried.  As with other beans, soak overnight in plenty of water so they have room to expand.  Simmer the soaked chickpeas for 1-2 hours in at least double their volume of water, skimming the foam that initially rises to the top.  You can add aromatics to the cooking liquid such as onions, garlic, herbs and dried ham.  The liquid strained from the chickpeas once cooked is an unparalleled broth in and of itself.  I highly recommend pressure-cooking for an incredibly soft and creamy texture. Bring your cooker to full pressure for six minutes, and then remove from the stove.  Allow the pressure to reduce naturally – about 20 minutes.  Pressure -cooked and deep fried chickpeas tossed with salt, sugar and smoked paprika ended up being one of the most popular items I’ve ever put on a menu.  So simple…

I’ve gone off on a chickpea tangent recently.  You can get them dry-roasted at most any Middle Eastern market, for snacking on.  I opt for the lightly or un-salted variety, and crush them for use as a crusty exterior when pan-frying.  I like to leave them fairly coarse, for an extra crunchy texture.  Here’s a recipe for chickpea crusted chicken thighs.  No big mysteries here.  You use the standard breading procedure, subbing the chickpeas for breadcrumbs.  Enjoy!

Chickpea Crusted Chicken Thighs   

Chickpea Crusted Chicken Thighs with Romaine Salad

4 boneless chicken thighs – pounded flat
1 cup AP flour
2 eggs
2 cups dry-roasted chickpeas – crushed or pulsed in a food processor
2 heads romaine lettuce
2 Tbls chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbls chopped fresh tarragon
8 boquerones (white anchovies) – rough chopped
2 Tbls red wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
Grapeseed oil for pan frying
1 lemon – cut into wedges

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and set aside so they can come to room temperature.

To prepare the salad, wash the romaine lettuce and fresh herbs.  Cut the heads of lettuce in half lengthwise, so there is one large wedge for each chicken thigh.  Combine the vinegar, mustard and chopped anchovies in a small bowl, and slowly whisk in the olive oil.  Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper if necessary.

Lay out three small trays.  Whisk the two eggs through a fine mesh strainer into one of the trays and add ¼ cup of water.  Put the flour in one tray and the bread crumbs in another.  To bread the chicken, dip each seasoned thigh first in the flour and make sure it is completely coated with a thin layer.  Next, transfer it to the egg wash, and completely coat it with egg.  Use tongs or a fork to avoid eggy fingers.  Finally, transfer the egg washed chicken to the bread crumbs, and press them on tight with your hands to form a full layer of crumbs.

Heat a large skillet with ¼ inch of grapeseed oil.  When the oil is shimmering, carefully add the breaded chicken thighs.  They should sizzle aggressively when placed in the oil.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  Fry in batches or use multiple skillets so that each piece of chicken has space and oil around it.  Adjust the heat if the oil gets too hot.  Cook the chicken thighs for 3-4 minutes on each side. When cooked all the way through, the chicken should be firm and springy to touch.  Remove them from the pan and place on a cooling rack set on a tray to catch dripping oil.

Dress the romaine with the fresh herbs and vinaigrette.  Serve each chicken thigh with a wedge of romaine lettuce and a wedge of lemon.