In Latin, the chickpea was called Cicer arietinium. It is said that Cicero, a Roman statesman known for his speeches and writings, gave the chickpea its name, perhaps because his family was of plebeian origin and cultivated chickpeas, or because one of his ancestors had a giant wart on his nose. No-one knows for sure.
What is certain is that the chickpea is native to Turkey and was consumed in the Middle East thousands of years ago. It migrated to India quite early on and was very successful there. It is still one of the food staples in that country. It won over the rest of Asia and also spread throughout Africa, Australia, and the American continent during conquests in the 16th century.
The Romans were great consumers of chickpeas. Apicius cooked them with cumin, olive oil, and sweet wine.
In the Middle Ages, they were thought to have a number of medicinal properties, but also disadvantages: they had a reputation for curing constipation, but also causing flatulence, which is still the case as they still have a high fiber content.
They also had a reputation for helping intercourse and increasing fertility. This advice is given in the Kama Sutra: "Those who take chickpeas and cook them carefully with onions, then sprinkle over a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom seed, well mashed together, will obtain, from eating this food, a great amorous desire and strength for intercourse." (chapter XIII).
There are many dishes using chickpeas or chickpea flour throughout the Mediterranean region, and also in India, and they have spread to other continents.
Dried chickpeas that are light and smooth are the best. If they are too wrinkled, and too dark, it means they are older and will take longer to cook.
Chickpeas are sold fresh (in areas where they are produced), fresh and roasted (from Turkey), dried, pre-cooked, and frozen, canned, and in the form of flour.
Dried chickpeas should be soaked for at least 12 hours before cooking. They should be cooked in water or broth for quite a long time (1–1.5 hours).
They are eaten in salads, served with poultry or meat, and almost always with couscous. They can be made into puree and soup: in Tunisia, Laablabi is a spicy soup served on day-old bread.
Hummus (originally from Lebanon) is a think cream made from chickpeas, often enriched with sesame paste.
Socca is a very large and thin pancake made with chickpea flour originating in Liguria (Italy), which has always been cooked from Menton to Nice (region that was Italian until 1860). The Algerian calentica is similar, as is the faina in Argentina and Uruguay.
Panisses, also from Liguria but adopted throughout Provence, are also based on chickpea flour cooked with water: the dough is formed into small slices or thick slabs, which are cut and then pan-fried.
Falafel, also called tamiya, cooked throughout the Middle East, are balls of mashed chickpeas seasoned and fried.
Chickpeas are an essential ingredient of the Spanish stew olla podrida. In India, there are many soups, stews, purees, and dhals, often seasoned with turmeric.
Dry chickpeas and chickpea flour should be stored in a dry place in a closed container.
Frozen chickpeas should be put straight in the freezer without breaking the cold chain.
Of all the legumes, chickpeas offer the most protein, carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.
They also contain various antioxidants, carotenes, and vitamin E.
There are two major varieties of chickpea:
. Kabuli: quite large, cream-colored seeds, cultivated in the Mediterranean region.
. Desi: smaller seeds, which can be smooth or wrinkled and are dark in color, from green to black, grown in India and other countries in Asia and East Africa.
Chickpeas can be found fresh (but rarely) in the spring and summer.
They are available in dried form throughout the year.
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