I can name three foods that my kids unanimously adore: spaghetti, avocados, and chickpeas. Occasionally chicken will find its way onto the short list, although lately we’ve had poultry battles reminiscent of The Cold War. I finally had to ask what was going on because everyone was silently pushing their chicken around their plates. Apparently I make it too often.
I have a love/hate relationship with spaghetti. On the one hand, I’m Italian and feeding my kids noodles for dinner is part of my job description. On the other, it’s a starch with little dietary value. Not the end of the world, an “absence of” is still better than foods that are “full of” [trans fats, preservatives, artificial colors, etc]. But I’d prefer to give them something that packs more nutritional heat.
Chickpeas are my hero food because although they look deceptively simple, they’re still full of the good stuff, namely protein and fiber.
I’m making my kids sound pickier than they are – they do love many healthy foods. They like their tomatoes raw, their broccoli salted and their corn on the cob. Lauren starts most days with a slice of toast, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Carrots are a favorite snack. Runny eggs are religion.
But I’m talking here about that point in the Venn diagram where their loves collide. The foods for which they could conceivably drop their forks and duke it out over who gets the last scoop or bite or swipe.
When I was still working full-time away from home, we brought on a new babysitter to help out with Emma and the older kids after school. I mentioned the trifecta, and pointed Nadine in the direction of the avocados and the spaghetti packages.
“You see these things?” I said as I pulled out a can of chickpeas from the cabinet. “These are gold.” I popped the lid, drained them into a colander, and gave them a quick rinse and dry before tossing them into a pan of hot oil. “They like ‘em crispy and salty.”
Cooking chickpeas is dead easy.
Or so I thought.
I came home from work one night to find our babysitter standing over the hot stove, sauté pan in one hand.
“How do these look?”
I peered over her shoulder.
“Nadine, they look like scabs.”
They were dark and shriveled beyond recognition. Not the nicest way of telling someone that her food is overcooked. But Nadine is a lover of bad jokes. I had a feeling that she’d be into the scabs line. She was.
I had another motive too: I didn’t want my kids to have to eat rocks for dinner. Even though they claimed to like eating rocks.
And now I have a third motive for treating chickpeas with respect. Have you ever laid eyes on a fresh one? They’re stunning. Vivid green with an easy-peel shell that makes you want to spend the afternoon sitting on a milk crate with a cold beer in hand, popping chickpeas into a bucket. At least that’s how my Chez Panisse back-of-the-house fantasy goes. I read in one of Alice’s cookbooks that she and the prep cooks used to sit around shelling fava beans this way.
The nice thing about cookbooks is that you can recreate those fantasies in the home. Whether you’re making Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon or David Chang’s pork belly, with a few simple ingredients you’re on your way to kitchen nirvana.
Last week I brought my three-year-old into my Alice Waters fantasy. With a cold beer and apple juice within arm’s reach, we pulled up stools and sat at the kids’ craft table, shelling chickpeas in preparation for this: a lox & bagel-inspired salad that uses local rye berries, smoked salmon, dill, thinly-sliced cucumbers and a few dollops of Neufchatel.
What do chickpeas have to do with all of these standard lox & bagel ingredients? Absolutely nothing. But they do taste like English peas…and English peas work with salmon….and cream….and lemon…and dill….and I did need a little boost of color. What else was I going to do with these beauties anyway? Let them wither and die while the other non-noteworthy ingredients stole this salad show? That’s a lot of rhetorical questions in one paragraph.
This salad…is a good one. It’s healthy and indulgent. Fresh, colorful, playful. And the most important benefit: it doesn’t make your chickpeas into scabs. Bon appétit.
- 3 tablspoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of salt, divided + a little more to taste for the final dressing
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 heaping tablespoon of
- 1 small bunch of dill, divided
- 4-5 red cipollini onions, peeled and sliced into rings
- 1 cup rye berries, rinsed
- 1 cup freshly-shelled chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup capers
- ¼ cup thinly-sliced cucumbers
- 1/3 lb of smoked salmon broken into pieces (I like the thicker smoked salmon filets, but you can use the standard variety too)
- 2 tablespoons of Neufchatel cheese
- Prep the pickled onions by layering a tablespoon of salt, the sugar, the coriander seeds in a small mason jar. Top with the lid and give the ingredients a good shake, then place a large pinch of dill inside. Layer the onions over the top, and top up the jar (just to cover the onions) with water. Give one last shake and set the onions aside.
- While the onions are pickling, cook the rye berries. Bring the rye and 2¼ cups of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan, and once boiling, turn the heat down to low. Simmer the rye for an hour and 15 minutes (or until tender). Remove from heat and set aside.
- Give the rye a chance to cool off for a few minutes, and then get ready to assemble the salad. In a microwavable bowl, add the chickpeas and half cup of water and cook on high for 90 seconds, just to soften the chickpeas and remove their slight starchiness.
- While the rye is cooling, in a large serving bowl, make the dressing by whisking the olive oil with 1 tablespoon of the pickling liquid, the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Add the cooked rye, the drained chickpeas, the capers, and 2 tablespoons of the pickled onions (separated into rings). Toss the salad, coating well with the dressing. Add the sliced cucumbers, the salmon a few tablespoons of chopped dill and adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you’d like, transfer to a flat wide plate for serving, and top with a few dollops of the Neufchatel cheese.
- Use the leftover pickled onions in everything from pizza, and pasta to sandwiches and even cocktails.