Botanical and archeological evidence reveals that chickpea plants were first domesticated in the Middle East in ancient times. Today, however, India supplies 80 to 90 percent of the world's supply of chickpeas.
The many names that chickpeas go by are a nod to the many regions of the world where they are now grown and eaten. In India, they are referred to as Bengal gram. In Spanish-speaking countries, they are garbanzo. The Arab world refers to them as hamaz (or hummus), and in Ethiopia they are called shimbra.
The plants grow in tropical to temperate regions and reach about 2 feet in height. Plants bear inflated inch-long pods enclosing one or two irregularly shaped seeds.
The seeds are about one-quarter to one-half an inch in diameter and can be buff-colored, yellow, brown, black, or green. The plant's young, green pods and sprouts can also be eaten.
Like many legumes, chickpeas are an excellent source of fiber. In addition, they are a good source of magnesium.
Chickpeas are available at most grocery stores both canned and dried. They can be eaten fresh, fried, roasted, or boiled. Generally, chickpeas should be soaked overnight before cooking, which is usually done by boiling them. Dried chickpeas may take as long as 2 hours before they are soft and ready to eat. A pressure cooker is also an option and can reduce cooking time by half.
Chickpeas have a mild, slightly nutty flavor and a firm texture. They can be used in appetizers, salads, soups, or main dishes. Flour made from ground chickpeas can be made into breads or used as batter for deep-fat frying. They also can be combined with pasta or simply served by themselves. Sometimes they are served roasted and salted like peanuts. They are part of cuisine worldwide. In the
Middle East, they are mashed and used as the main ingredient in hummus, a thick sauce made with lemon juice, olive oil, and sesame seed paste. Hummus is becoming a popular dish in the United States. Falafel, a Middle Eastern croquette, is another dish that draws on the chickpea as its main ingredient. In the Mediterranean region, chickpeas are added to Spanish stews and Italian minestrone soups.
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