Craig Claiborne, the late pioneer of food journalism for the New York Times once launched a New Year’s Day column with the line, “Blessed indeed is the household whose refrigerator contains an overlooked tin of caviar.” Yes, well. For most of us, it’s goodbye caviar times, hello salad days, not entirely a bad thing. Substitute chickpeas for caviar and you’re halfway to Wilted Green Salad with Fresh Chickpeas, Feta and Greek Yogurt.
Claiborne was a great writer and his Blessed indeed. . . has rattled around in my head for years, rubbing shoulders with oddities like Bleak House and Gravity’s Rainbow, other instances when writers got the openings just right. Desperate with hunger, who hasn’t peered into a refrigerator and felt that special relief (Yes! Thank you, God!) on finding, not just any old shoe, but the one or two absolute favorites from which to fashion a meal?
Chickpeas are one of our magical favorites. If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes (a feat in itself) then you’re either suffering from hummus overload or really don’t know garbanzos. Chickpeas aren’t the story–they’re the 20-pound bond paper the story is written on. They’re meant to be gussied up, cosseted with herbs, adorned with a chiffonade of sun-dried tomatoes, with apricots and almonds, with preserved lemon, saffron and harissa, with garlic and. . . and. . . A fried egg is just a fried egg, until you’ve tasted a mixture of ruptured yolk and chickpeas warmed in evoo with some fresh tarragon.
Our preferred chickpeas are tiny dried Italian cecci, but cans of chickpeas ordinaires reside in our pantry as well, just in case. Fresh chickpeas, a recent novelty, at least in this part of the world, are delicious in their own right and you can drop them into any role usually played by fresh peas or favas. Visually, they’re a delight to behold, shelling them provides a Zen-like respite in the middle of chaos, and they have a fine, subtle taste of something new. But if you can’t lay your hands on any, then look in your fridge or pantry shelf for the comforting standby. Blessed indeed.
PanMass Challenge cancer ride Update: Team Rialto-Trade is over a third of the way to our goal of raising $100,000 for the Jimmy Fund. If you’re in the Boston area this Sunday, we’re holding a fundraiser bicycle ride and brunch at TRADE. The optional no-drop 30-mile leaves TRADE at 10 a.m. (Jody and I are both riding) followed by brunch at TRADE from 1 – 4. Think Island Creek oysters, Pat and Barbara’s Clams (we did a post on their aquaculture grant last summer), Bloody Mary’s and a good time for a good cause. More info here.
“Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him Father!” –Lydia Child
Happy Father’s Day to all the cooking dads out there!
Wilted Green Salad with Fresh Chickpeas, Feta and Greek Yogurt
Makes 4 main course servings
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Vidalia onion, cut into ¼-inch dice, about 1 cup
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander seed
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- ¼ cup celery peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 fresh hot pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced, about 1 ounce
- ¾ pound fresh shelled garbanzo beans, about 1 pound in their shell (or about a pound of cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained if canned)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons anise hyssop or fresh mint leaves, sliced into thin ribbons
- ¾ pound tender greens: watercress, spinach, arugula, peas shoots–trimmed of tough stems
- 2 ounces crumbled feta
- ½ cup Greek Yogurt mixed with 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper
- Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan or wok over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Add the coriander seed, garlic, celery, pepper and chick peas. Season with salt and pepper, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook 4 minutes (reduce to 2 minutes, just enough to heat, if using cooked chickpeas). Toss with half the lemon juice and half the herbs and transfer to a shallow bowl.
- Increase the heat to high, add the remaining olive oil and the greens and toss for 30 seconds. Season with the remaining lemon juice, herbs and salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter, top with the feta and then the chick peas. Serve immediately or at room temperature, offering yogurt for drizzling on the side.
I first encountered fresh chickpeas was when I was competing on Top Chef Masters. The challenge was to cook for a Simpson character. I pulled Lisa out of the hat. Lucky me – Lisa’s vegetarian, a baritone saxophone player, a political activist and Buddhist. What was I supposed to do with that? I can’t remember how chickpeas made it to my mis en place, or what exactly I did with them, but I do know the judges thought Lisa would love the dish. Chickpeas saved the day – and helped me raise a few bucks for Partners in Health, the charity I was sponsoring.
Fresh chickpeas, nutty flavored and brilliant light green under their skins, appear in the market briefly, so when you can capture them, use them. They need hardly any cooking. Most legumes are dried so getting them fresh is a seasonal treat.
Ken wasn’t happy when he saw the list of ingredients for this recipe. “Anise hyssop? What’s that? That makes two strange ingredients!” “You don’t have to use them,” I said. “You can use regular chickpeas, and mint.” Anise hyssop is a lovely fuzzy herb native to North America and a member of the mint family. The stems and flowers have a sweet anise flavor, but the leaves taste like a cross between anise and mint. Our herb maven Eva grows it for us at Rialto and Trade every year. M int is a fine substitute.
With a different selection of herbs you could spin this dish in a completely different direction. We love cilantro, but some families hate it and the same is true of dill. I chose these herbs to take the dish in an Eastern Mediterranean direction, but I could just as happily chosen basil, parsley and mint. Finally, if you have any celery leaves, add them to the herb mix. They provide a nice bright accent.