A Legume Worth Trying: Chickpeas

About every three to four weeks, I put together a couple of recipes for the bulletin board at the Altru Fitness Center. Since it is at placed where people go to try stay fit or get into shape, the majority of the recipes are not what you would call diet-breakers.

Many are ones that I’ve made up. Others are favorites of mine that I’ve received from friends. And some are from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Each month, I receive a release from the AICR that contains several recipes, nutrition notes that cover topics ranging from probiotics to good sources of omega-3 fats as well as nutrition-wise answers to questions about food safety, cancer prevention and a host of other topics.

The most recent correspondence contained a recipe for Mediterranean Chickpea Stew with Polenta, which looked very tasty. In case you don’t know, North Dakota is one of the bigger producers of chickpeas in the U.S. They’re also known as garbanzo beans.

It was my second encouter with chickpeas within a couple of days. For my recent birthday, my stepdaughter, Amy, and my grandson, Rakeem, brought me a nice bowl of chili and a bagette from Dakota Harvest Bakers in downtown Grand Forks. Called Buffalo Beer Chili, the dish contained lean buffalo, onions, red and yellow peppers, chipotles, tomatoes, kidney beans, spices, chickpeas and dark beer. It was really quite tasty.

What I liked the most about it was the chickpeas. I’ve grown quite fond of them, using them in one of favorite recipes, Spicy Beans.

Chickpeas, which are part of the Fabaceae family, a large group of plants commonly known as legumes. Many people use them in salads and stews. They can also be modified and used in many various forms.

Ground chickpeas are used to create chickpea flour, which is also called gram flour. Ground, molded chickpeas are used in falafels — a very popular vegetarian dish — while cooked and ground chickpeas form a paste, commonly known as hummus.

Nutritionally, they are a bonanza. First, they are a good source of folate and protein. Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food, which, according to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, may help to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

Chickpeas are also very high in dietary fiber and thus are a healthy food source, especially as a source of carbohydrates for persons with insulin sensitivity or diabetes. They are low in fat, and most of the fat content is polyunsaturated.

And if you are looking for another good source of calcium besides yogurt and milk, chickpeas contain 190 milligrams per 100 grams. Chickpeas also contain high mineral content.

If you would like to give chickpeas a try, check out the following recipes. And if you’re already on the chickpea bandwagon, just add these recipes to your repertoire.

Mediterranean Chickpea Stew with Polenta
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups diced eggplant
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup chopped onions
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes (with no added salt)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (with no added salt)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Salt and ground black pepper
1 17-ounce tube prepared polenta, cut into 8 slices
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
In small Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, zucchini, onions and bell pepper. Cover, reduce heat and cook until vegetables soften, 8 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, paprika and red pepper flakes. Holding a knife vertically, work it up and down in the can of tomatoes to chop coarsely. Add the tomatoes with liquid to vegetables. Mix in tomato paste and chickpeas. Cook until vegetables are soft but still hold their shape, 10 minutes. Season stew to taste with salt and pepper. The stew can be made up to 2 days ahead and reheated.
Meanwhile, brush polenta on both sides with oil. Heat a griddle or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add polenta slices, in one layer, and cook until they begin to brown on bottom, 5 minutes. Turn and brown on second side, 4 to 5 minutes.
To serve, divide polenta among 4 wide, shallow bowls. Top each with one-fourth of the stew, garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 390 calories, 12 grams total fat (1.5 grams saturated), 61 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 11 grams dietary fiber, 500 milligramsg sodium.

Spicy Beans
1 14½-ounce can dark kidney beans
1 14½-ounce can navy beans
1 14½-ounce can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
¼ cup textured vegetable protein (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup ketchup
2 cups water
4 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
4 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 green bell pepper, chopped (optional)
¼ teaspooon cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion, celery and garlic in olive oil. When they become translucent, add remaining ingredients and simmer for 1 hour or until mixture thickens.
Note: Can be served over rice or eaten alone.