How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cooking Chickpeas

Part of the reason I never cook beans is because I lack foresight.  I never think about soaking them overnight, partly because I never want beans hard enough.  Overnight pizza crust, I can do; but then, I kinda love bread.

Also, you’re somewhat tied to the kitchen when you have a pot of beans on.  Sure, you can do other things around the house, but you really can’t leave.  What if they need more water?  When will they be done (and you know they always take longer than expected)?

So why the hell did I decide to bring home a pound of dried chickpeas the other day, instead of just buying a can or two?  *shrug*

I left them sitting on my counter to remind me to cook the stupid things, instead of shoving them into the pantry and promptly forgetting about them.  So with a tiny mountain of chickpeas eyeballing me balefully, Google and I got on that stick.  And I was reminded of a trick I’ve recently heard.  It’s two words, and it will change your bean-cookin’ life:

Baking soda.

Oh yes.  One teaspoon of baking soda will not only soften one pound of beans to perfection — no hard, gritty centers here — but it also eliminates the need to soak overnight.  And they cook faster than usual.  I’m dead serious.

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard about this trick, but let’s just say it was Harold McGee.  Him, or Cook’s Illustrated; it’s got to be one of them, right?

It’s the perfect lazy-man’s method.  I didn’t even bother rinsing the chickpeas.  I literally just dumped it all together in a pot.  And for extra flavor, I tied up some leeks and pork bones in a sachet (to make removal super-easy) so that it made its own quick stock while it simmered away.

When things are too simple and easy like this, I tend to assume that it’s not going to taste good.  And I was never happier to be wrong.

Because man cannot live on chickpeas alone, I paired some with mustard greens, onion, and garlic.  On top is a little fromage blanc, which looks a bit like a poached egg.  (That would also be amazing.)  Nothing fancy, but it was very, very good.

I might have to start cooking beans more often.

Chickpeas and Mustard Greens

Yield: A million chickpeas; the greens will serve 4

Chickpeas and Mustard Greens

Forget everything you've ever heard about cooking beans. Add salt at the beginning. Don't soak overnight. Just use a little baking soda. Perfect.

My chickpeas were well done at the 2 hour mark, even a little softer than I'd intended. Depending on how old yours are, you might need to let them cook longer. I like leeks in the sachet, but if you'd rather, a quartered onion will do just as well.

I specify mustard greens, but clearly you can use whatever greens you prefer. I used mustard greens so that I didn't have to remove the ribs, because my god is that a pain sometimes.

Ingredients

    For the Chickpeas:
  • 1 pound dried chickpeas
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pound bones (chicken, pig, or cow)
  • 2 big leeks, washed well, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 large sprig thyme
  • For the Greens:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 to 3 cups cooked chickpeas, plus cooking liquid
  • 1 bunch mustard greens, cut crossways into 1-inch ribbons
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

For the Chickpeas:

1. Put the chickpeas in a large Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover by about 3 inches, and add the salt and baking powder. Bring to a boil over high heat (covering the pot will make the process go faster).

2. Meanwhile, tie the bones, leeks, bay leaves, and thyme up in a piece of cheesecloth so that you have a nice little sachet. Put the sachet in the pot with the chickpeas.

3. When the pot comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to low or medium-low, to maintain a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until chickpeas are soft. Remove sachet (so easy!), and enjoy a wealth of chickpeas. (They will freeze beautifully.)

For the Greens:

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven. Stir in the onion, sprinkle with salt, and cook until just translucent, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute, or until fragrant.

3. Stir in the chickpeas and cooking liquid, and pile the mustard greens on top. Cover the pan, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, at least 15 minutes.

4. Taste, and correct the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Serve with a lovely drizzle of olive oil for good measure.

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Five Minute Photo Shoot: Greens with Tasso and Chickpeas (and a Recipe!)

Since I’ve been neglecting you all lately, here’s a special edition Five Minute Photo Shoot: one with a recipe!

I threw this dish together the other night when some friends came over for dinner.  I was just about to take off for a whirlwind trip to my hometown, New Orleans, and felt I should make room in my freezer for all the goodies I was planning to bring back.  A block of tasso (a highly spiced bit of cured ham used for seasoning in Cajun and Creole cooking) was begging to be used up, and I was craving some serious greenery; this is what resulted.

The flavorful tasso got sautéed with an onion and some crimini mushrooms, before adding in a can of chickpeas and about a million collard greens (which always cook down into oblivion).  A splash of chicken broth, a rind of Parmesan, and a bay leaf tied everything together, and made just the sort of thing I want to eat on these newly-chilly Fall nights.  For dinner, I served it alone with a wedge of Northern-style cornbread; it went over rice for lunch, with a dollop of yogurt on top and some whole-wheat flatbread on the side.

Greens with Tasso and Chickpeas
Makes 6 to 8 servings

I used collard greens here, but you can substitute mustard greens if you like.  Instead of the hard-to-find tasso (and in case you don’t want to make your own), use any spicy, highly-flavored sausage you like, such as Spanish chorizo.  Add extra broth if you’d rather have a more soup-like dish.  Do not skip the Tabasco sauce; it makes the dish.  You could stir it into the pot as it cooks, but I much prefer the random and more potent spice it gives by adding it at the table.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
12 to 16 ounces tasso, cubed
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
3 pounds collard greens, thoroughly washed, ribs removed, and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 rind from a used wedge of Parmesan
3 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and black pepper, as needed
Toasted pine nuts, optional garnish
Tabasco sauce, not optional garnish

1.  In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion, and sauté until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the tasso, and cook until tasso browns, about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, cooking until they release their liquid, about 5 minutes.  Add the chickpeas, bay leaf, thyme, and nutmeg.  Stir and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes more.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare the collard greens, which will take longer than you think.  As you chop them, add them to the pot.  Stir to avoid burning.  When all greens have been added, add broth and Parmesan rind.  Cover loosely, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3.  Remove pot from heat.  Remove bay leaf (and Parmesan rind, if inedible).  Stir in chopped scallions and parsley leaves.  Add lemon juice, salt, and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.  Serve immediately in bowls, or over rice, with toasted pine nuts (optional) and Tabasco (not optional).