Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chickpeas


The earliest chickpeas found on the Hacilar site near Burdur in Turkey, have been estimated to be 7500 years old. It is not known if these were cultivated or collected from the wild but it is near this area of the fertile crescent that chickpeas are believed to have been first domesticated and where the wild  progenitor  Cicer reticulatum was recently discovered.

They have been found in pre-pottery Neolithic and, more abundantly, in the early bronze age deposits at Jericho. They have also been found at about the same time in Iraq and are known to have been grown at a later date in the  hanging gardens of Babylon. Chickpeas from the late Bronze age were found stored in large vessels in Crête and have been found on the 5th to 6th century B.C. funeral pyres at Salamis in Cyprus.

During the last great period of the Egyptian pharaohs, referred to as the New Kingdom (1580-1100 B.C.), the chickpea appears under the name 'falcon-face' in a list of plant names on a papyrus school text.

The Iliad by Homer (about 1000-800 B.C) provides the most ancient literary reference. The arrows of Helenus bouncing off the breastplate of Menelaos are compared with beans and chickpeas being thrown by the winnower.

In Ancient Gaul chickpeas appeared in vegetable soup at least as early as the 7th century B.C. Chickpeas and lentils were preserved in amphorae at Pompeii for export to the rest of the Roman world. Pliny reported that at festivals chickpeas were frequently thrown over the heads of people and were caught with much hilarity.

The botanical name for chickpeas is Cicer arietinum having been derived from Aries (the ram) and referring to the ram's head shape of the seed. Cicer was the latin name for the crop and it has often been assumed that Cicero was so named because he had a wart on his nose the size of a chickpea.

Whether or not this was the case, chickpeas are often connected with warts; the Italian 'ceci' means both a wart and a chickpea and the French 'pois chiche' served as a figurative synonym for warts. Touching a wart at new moon with a chickpea plant and then binding it with a linen cloth was considered to be one remedy for the complaint.

When Charlemagne was trying to restore productivity to lands ravaged by war, he ordered that chickpeas should be one of the vegetables to be planted on the pilot farms of his domains. When the Sicilian Vespers of March 1282 started a rebellion against the rule of Charles I of Anjou in which all  identifiable Frenchmen were massacred, the French were betrayed by their inability to pronounce 'ceci' (chickpeas).

Chickpeas would seem to be an unlikely food to be credited with aphrodisiac qualities; nevertheless, there is an Arabic recipe for a stimulating potion to be taken just before bedtime in winter, made by heating the juice of powdered onions with honey and then adding crushed chickpeas and water. The perfumed garden also reports an amazing sexual exploit achieved after eating great quantities of chickpeas washed down with camel's milk spiced with honey.

Dondonaeus, writing in the 16th century, also believed the chickpea to have aphrodisiac properties and he recommended that they should not be eaten by priests and scholars.

Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century astrologer/physician, wrote in his famous herbal of 1652 that chickpeas are "under the dominion of Venus, they are less windy than beans, but nourish more; they provoke urine, and are thought to increase sperm."

In India, the acid secretion of chickpea leaves is sometimes collected by spreading a cloth over the plants at night. The acid mixed with dew is wrung out and used medicinally and as a vinegar. Early Sanskrit writers mentioned it as an astringent.

A German writer in 1793 mentioned that ground roast chickpeas were the best substitute for coffee in Europe and are still used as such in several parts of the world.

Eastern Sicily has a dish made by putting chickpeas and hot pebbles in the same container and stirring them vigorously until the heat from the pebbles has cooked the chickpeas. This method of cooking suggests a pre-Neolithic origin (before the invention of fireproof pottery). It would appear that chickpeas have been eaten by man since earliest civilization.

Availability and Purchasing Guide

There are two common types of chickpeas: those with small, angular seeds, which may be yellow, green, light brown or even black in color and are known as 'desi' types, and the larger, more rounded or brain-shaped types which are normally beige/buff in color, known as 'kabuli' types. The desi types are mostly found in the Indian subcontinent, Iran, Ethiopia and parts of central America, whereas the kabuli types are commonly found throughout southern Europe, Western Asia, the Nile Valley, North Africa and South America.

They are available mainly dried whole or split. In parts of the world where chickpeas are grown they are frequently sold as the whole green plant from which the seeds are consumed fresh as a snack or the whole plant can be placed in a fire and the parched seeds eaten as a snack. They are also available tinned whole or as a purée. Chickpea flour is also available in some countries.

Chickpeas are also marketed under the names gram, Bengal gram and garbanzos.

Nutrition

Dried chickpeas contain about 20% protein. The bulk of the seed is made up of carbohydrates (61%) and 5% fat. It is a relatively rich source of lecithin and potassium and also has small quantities of vitamins A, B and C.
100 g of chickpeas = 350 calories.

Storage

Dried chickpeas can be kept almost indefinitely. Tinned chickpeas last well for up to 5 years. Once cooked, the chickpeas can be stored covered for several days in the fridge.

Basic Preparations

Pick out any grit or discolored chickpeas. Soak overnight in cold water. The following day, drain. Add cold water to more than cover. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer until tender (30-60 minutes). An alternative to soaking overnight is to cover the chickpeas with cold water and bring to the boil, turn off heat and leave covered for 1 hour.

In the pressure cooker: bring to 15 lb pressure and maintain for 10-15 minutes.

Many recipes specify that chickpeas should be cooked with 1 tsp. baking soda; this was necessary to soften the older varieties of chickpeas but now no longer seems to be necessary.

1 tsp. = 1 teaspoon = 5 ml.
1 tbsp. = 1 tablespoon = 15 ml.

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