Spicy Chickpea Cakes with Romesco Sauce

After reading Robert Harris’s entertaining novel IMPERIUM about the Roman orator, essayist and politician Cicero, and his parlous ascendency to the position of consul in ancient Rome I assumed I’d gotten most of the salient details of his life.  I was wrong.  Pull up a plate of Spicy Chickpea Cakes with Romesco Sauce–it’s an interesting story.

Cicero means “chickpea.”

Along with the debauchery, the dissipation, the appetite for combat and slaughter as entertainment (and all of this was two millenia before HBO) the Romans paid homage to a mirror culture of virtue, modesty and self-effacement dating from the days of the Early Republic.  By Cicero’s time in the Late Republic this was a tradition more honored in the breach than the observance, but one holdover was the the use of a humble cognomen, a Roman third name which often served as the family identifier, as in Marcus Tullius Cicero.  Or Marcus Tullius Chickpea.  To be fair, Cicero’s family was not alone in this affectation.  Other Roman families called themselves Lentils or Beans or Peas (Lentulus, Fabius, Piso).  Cicero’s family probably raised chickpeas. 

I’ve spent the week taking my office apart–it was beginning to resemble something out of John Aubrey’s BRIEF LIVES, towers of books and papers threatening to entomb me.  I’d forgotten what it was like to box up twenty cases of books, or schlep furniture up or down a couple of flights of stairs.   Putting a new office together seems to drag on forever–shifting software from one dying computer (a PC) to one that speaks a different language (an iMac).  Sometimes you just need an escape, something that fills your head  and your belly.  Marcus Tullius Cicero.  Spicy Chickpeas with Romesco Sauce.  I like to think he would have enjoyed them, maybe with a dash of garum.  Ken

Spicy Chickpea Cakes


  • 3/4 cup dried chickpeas, cleaned of stones and dirt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons ground toasted cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon harissa
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 extra large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup chick pea flour
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup Romesco sauce
  1. Cover the chickpeas with water, and soak for 8 hours, or overnight.  Drain.
  2. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery and carrot, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook 1 minute.
  4. Add bay leaves, cumin, chickpeas and add water to cover by 1 inch.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer 30-45 minutes or until the chickpeas are tender and all the liquid has cooked off so they’re almost dry.  If the beans are done but seem too soupy, increase the heat and boil to reduce the juices to a glaze.  It’s okay if they start to brown a bit.  It’s added flavor.  Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.   Cool.
  5. Remove and discard the bay leaves.
  6. Put the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse 3-4 times to coarsely chop.  Add 2 tablespoons chickpea flour, harissa, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, parsley, cilantro and egg and pulse to just combine.  If the mixture seems a little wet, add a tablespoon or two of chickpea flour.
  7. Pour the remaining chickpea flour onto a plate.  Form the chickpea paste into 8 balls; roll in the chickpea flour to coat well; then form into patties, 3 inches across and ½ inch thick.  Set on a rack and refrigerate 30 minutes to firm up.
  8. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  9. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the chickpea cakes and cook on each side 5 minutes or until crisp, golden brown and heated through, adding an additional tablespoon of oil when they are flipped.  Transfer to the oven to keep warm.  You may have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan.
  10. Serve with Romesco sauce,  some Greek yogurt, and a refreshing salad that might include cucumbers, arugula, tomatoes and scallions.

 Romesco Sauce


  • 2 red peppers, roasted and peeled
  • 1 dried pepper, soaked in warm water to cover until tender (about 30 minutes), then stemmed and seeded—ancho, pasilla, guajillo.  You want a pepper with some heat and  a rich flavor
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup toasted almonds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pinch hot red pepper flakes, optional


  1. Combine the roasted peppers with all the remaining Romesco sauce ingredients in a food processor and pulse to purée to a coarse paste.  Season with salt to taste. I f it seems flat, add a drop of vinegar. If you’d like more heat, add a pinch of hot red pepper flakes.

Jody Notes:

After last week’s meat-centric post of the rich 8-hour lamb, I was inspired to do something at the other end of the spectrum. These are easy, spicy, lively and fill the protein slot as a meat alternative.  They’re substantial and rich in flavor so they benefit from the spicy kick of Romesco sauce, the cool fresh flavor of yogurt and a the crunch of a salad.

Romesco sauce is one of my all time favorite pantry staples.  I discovered a recipe for  it many years ago in a magazine article by Claudia Roden, and now use it on everything from fish to vegetables to roasted meats.  This recipe provides leftovers—it’s great in a turkey sandwich.  My version is fairly heavy on the nuts.  Feel free to reduce them if you prefer a more peppery sauce.  I used a dried red bird chili and a dried pasilla pepper with the fresh roasted red peppers.  The flavor of the sauce will change depending on what kind of dried peppers you use, but that’s what makes cooking fun.

When peeling roasted red peppers, stand by the sink.  Rinse your hands,  not the peppers as you peel.  If there are a few charred bits that cling to the peppers and make it into the Romesco sauce, that’s okay.  They add a bit of smoke to the flavor.  

17 thoughts

  1. Hi, Everyone–Sorry about the early mailing. Not enough coffee early yesterday while I was still editing and I inadvertently sent the post into cyberspace. I apologize if you weren’t able to leave a comment. The publication date for post was today (Friday) and, unknown to me, the comment section wasn’t available until then. Please try again. We love hearing from you! Ken

  2. I could practically eat chickpeas every day, so this looks fabulous, and leftovers would be so easily portable to work for lunch. I still have not had the guts to try charring bell peppers or eggplant or what have you over the gas burner but there’s too many good things I’m missing out on so I’ll have to get over it. Love the mini-history lesson on cicero and hope you are not needing too much advil after all that almost-spring cleaning!

    • Thanks, Sara. What I need is couple of burly 20 y.o.’s to drag my filing cabinet and old desk down the stairs. Probably next week. By the way, charring peppers and eggplant over the burner works great (unfortunately, for some weird reason the blue flame of the burner wouldn’t show up in the photographs–and I took a lot). Just don’t do if you don’t have an oven hood. Ken

      • Molly (comment immediately below) made these this weekend and managed somehow to save some for me to try–delicious! It’s decided–I must conquer my fears!

  3. I’ve been cooking chickpeas in my pressure cooker for a while now. There’s an almost airy fluffiness to them once when they’re done. (Eleven minutes total cook time.) Would I be able to do the first two steps, and then add the chickpeas, bay leaf and cumin and then pressurize?

    I’m also intrigued by the Romesco sauce. I use blanched almonds in mine, but it looks like yours still have their skins. Is the flavor any different?

    • Hi, Molly. I haven’t cooked chickpeas in a pressure cooker (now it’s on the list!), but in theory I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. My only concern is that the drier the chickpeas are the easier it is to form them into cakes. If you cook the chickpeas and there’s still a lot of liquid in the bottom of the PC, leave the pot over the heat (lid off) until the liquid reduces to almost a glaze.

      Regarding the almonds, unless appearance is critical, we never used blanched almonds. We like to keep things like nuts as unprocessed as possible–except when we decide to toast or otherwise cook them–and to our palates blanched almonds have a less “almondy” flavor than the raw ones. The skin of an unblanched almond does have a slightly bitter note, so if that bothers you, by all means go with the blanched.

      By the way, be sure to make the Romesco. I can guarantee that it will become a staple. Ken

  4. I have always loved this sauce – I’ve been making it out of your cook book for years. Great on eggplant, chicken, and the tuna you paired with it back then. It even freezes, so I put the leftovers in a small ziplock and stick in the freezer for later use. If there are any…

    • My all-time favorite use for Romesco is with grilled spring onions–our hometown version of the Spanish colcotta festival. You slip the blackened skin of the bulb off, but keep the rest of the green tail attached. You then drag the tender bulb through the Romesco. You put the bulb in your mouth and then just close your mouth enough so your teeth aren’t quite touching. When you tug on the green part of the onion the bulb is trapped in the Romesco behind your closed teeth. Keep pulling and another layer of onion skin slips away, releasing the inner bulb into the Romesco into your mouth. Heavenly (and pretty much fun to watch other people learning to master the technique). ;-) Ken

  5. I’m so glad you have such eclectic literary tastes, Ken. The average mortal would never be able to come up with this story–I’m feeling a lot like sally pasley vetch (http://bit.ly/zWQFUM) or just plain kvetch, since I’m doing what you are doing–moving office/study, or at least a lot doing a lot rearranging–is it in the water? I need to make something for my vegetarian neighbors (and for us)–and was kind of brain dead for ideas–so, very timely–this sounds great!

  6. Hope your move is going better than mine–still waiting for file cases to arrive. I have a butcher block table piled high with paper–bills, receipts, etc.–as well as the detritus like in-out trays, organizer drawers filled with junk, etc. that needs to be dealt with. Anyone out there want a set of transverse files and a hotel room desk? With luck the guys from the non-profit will be by on Wednesday to pick up the books. Anything I haven’t packed and stored after this week goes into the junk pile! Let’s get together in another week or two–I’ve got meeting of one sort or another before then. Ken

  7. I’m back to report about doing the chickpeas part of the recipe in my pressure cooker: I pressurized the chick peas for 11 minutes, because I’ve determined that’s how long those beans take. There was still a bit of liquid left at the bottom of the pot, and it took about 15 minutes more to cook it all down until it was a glaze. I estimate I cut that part of the recipe down by at least 30 minutes.

    The patties did not turn out as nearly as pretty as yours did, but they were still very delicious.

    And you’ve turned me on to skin-in-nuts for the romesco sauce. I see very few blanched almonds in my future. And yes, I will probably have a dish of the sauce in the fridge at all times. So so good.

    I think the best part about this recipe was that I was able to pick up nearly everything — the dried chickpeas, the harissa, the chickpea flour, the nuts — at the Armenian markets in Watertown. I love having excuses to explore the aisles and pick up little savory bites for my lunch.

  8. Pingback: Put a Ring on It « Cheap Beets

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