Chickpeas were originally cultivated in the Middle East long ago, but they are still of great importance to the Arab world and beyond. Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, whatever you call them… they are extremely versatile and can be eaten hot or cold. They can also be baked, fried, or mashed. However they are prepared, chickpeas have many critical health benefits that should not be overlooked and add a sense of pride and unity to the Middle East.
The History of the Chickpea
The chickpea is the world’s second most widely grown legume, after the soybean. The wild version of the chickpea can be found today in southeastern Turkey and Syria, and it is also likely that this version of the crop was first domesticated in these regions approximately 11,000 years ago.The chickpea crop spread to Italy and Greece during the Bronze Age. India is currently the world leader in chickpea production, followed by Pakistan and Turkey. Most of the chickpea yield in the United States come from California, but parts of Montana, Washington, and Idaho are also successfully growing this crop today. From here, the chickpea spread to India and Africa. There are two main versions of the chickpea:
- The desi form, which is small and angular
- The kabuli chickpea, which has a more rounded appearance
Chickpeas are a rotation crop, which is defined as the practice of growing different crops on the same field in a specified order. It is recommended that a minimum of four years is allotted between chickpea crops in the same growth area to risk excess disease and insect problems. Chickpeas utilize a deep tap root system, which means that they can withstand drought conditions well by drawing out water from deeper in the soil. Heavier rainfall seasons tend to show reduced yields, as disease outbreaks and displacement of the plant’s roots are more prevalent in this climate. The prime climate for chickpea growth and quality is an area with distributed, light rains.
Disease is a significant problem in chickpea growth, and one of the most common diseases to date is known as Ascochyta blight, which can cause lesions on the plant, and eventually, it can penetrate the pod wall to infect the seed inside.
The War on… Hummus?
The Arabic for chickpea is “hummus.” However, Lebanese claim to have invented hummus, which has caused a great deal of tension in recent years. In 2009, Lebanon broke the world record of making the largest tub of hummus in the world – nearly 4,532 pounds! The following year, a Palestinian village, known as Abu Gosh, made a serving of hummus that weighed over four tons, which was approximately twice as much as the prior record set by Lebanon.
Within months, the Lebanese cooked up an even larger vat of hummus, weighing 23,042 pounds. Representatives from Lebanon say that Israel has tried to claim that they invented hummus. In response, Lebanon attempted to register hummus as its own with the European Union, but this attempt did not end up going through. It is still unclear who exactly invented the dish, but one thing is for sure – hummus is a unifying dish among Arab peoples, pre-dating the modern era, that is meant to bring Arab families and people together at the table.
Palestinians say that they do not mind that Lebanon is proud of its hummus, and that Egypt also makes the dish. Hummus is actually known to bring Arabs together, and it is commonly illustrated as a “Friday honorable breakfast” in the Arab world. The dish poses a way to gather the family around the table.
Hummus cannot create world peace, but it can spread unity, and many parts of the Middle East want to be remembered for this. In the Hummus Wars, nobody gets hurt.
Popular Chickpea Dishes
Essential techniques have remained about the same since medieval times, but much of the makeup and flavor of the dish has been changed since then. Basic, stripped-down hummus is made from chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice. Salt pickled lemons, which were (and still are) popular in Egypt and Morocco, were a good substitute when fresh lemons were not available in medieval times.
Scholars point out that in 14th century Egypt, most people who lived in cities did not have a home kitchen, and instead ate prepared foods from market stalls and vendors. Many of these vendors specialized in cold and meatless dishes, such as hummus. Some older versions of hummus actually did not include chickpeas in the recipes, but instead, used tahini, olive oil, and lemon. Hummus is often eaten as the main meal or as a mezze spread, and communally off of the same plate. Hummus should be eaten with bread, and with the hands. Olive oil on top of the hummus keeps the dish from drying out, and preserves its flavor.
This dish is a deep-fried paste of chickpeas, sometimes fava beans, and onions with spices. Palestinians often do not add fava beans, but instead, they make the dish with only chickpeas. Falafel is extremely versatile – it can be served as the main dish, stuffed in pita bread, among vegetables, with hummus, and more. It may be pale brown, or it can also be a darker color. It can also have a more smooth or grainy texture. Falafel most likely originated in Egypt, but it is served all over the Arab world, and the world in general today.
In Arabic, “Fatteh” translates to “crumbs.” This dish can be served for breakfast, or as a main dish (like in Egypt, often served for special occasions.) This dish usually utilizes leftover food, and so it is very versatile. It usually contains flatbread, chickpeas, yogurt, and oil, and it is served warm. Fatteh is fairly easy to prepare in the home, and it is often prepared vegetarian. However, meats such as chicken can always be added.
Nutritional Benefits of the Chickpea
In addition to their versatility in dishes, chickpeas also have notable nutritional value. Chickpeas only contain a moderate amount of calories, and they offer a good source of fiber (which aids in digestion), and protein. Because of their high amount of fiber and protein, chickpeas work to slow the digestion process and keep appetite under control. This can potentially, on its own, lower your overall calorie intake for the day.
One study compared calorie intake in 12 women. Before one meal, they consumed one cup of chickpeas, and before the other, they ate two slices of white bread. The women had a significant reduction in hunger after eating the chickpeas, compared to the bread. Because of their relatively low glycemic index(effect of carbohydrates on blood glucose), and their high levels of fiber and protein, chickpeas are known to regulate blood sugar. Because of the abundance of minerals in chickpeas, they can help to protect against certain chronic diseases such as heart attacks, cancer, and diabetes.
To conclude, many find inspiration in a poem by Rumi that features the versatile chickpea. The poem showcases the importance of teaching and learning by simmering in the new and exciting lessons of the world.
Chickpea to Cook
Rumi – Translated by Coleman Barks
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it’s being boiled.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’
The cook knocks him down with the ladle.
‘Don’t you try to jump out.
You think I’m torturing you.
I’m giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.
Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this.’
Grace first. Sexual pleasure,
then a boiling new life begins,
and the Friend has something good to eat.
Eventually the chickpea will say to the cook,
‘Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can’t do this by myself.
I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens
back in Hindustan and doesn’t pay attention
to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver,
my way into existence. I love your cooking.’
The cook says,
‘I was once like you,
fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.
My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled
once beyond that,
and became your teacher.’
Maybe we all have something to learn from the well-known chickpea – unity, variability, and tradition.
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