Chickpeas from a can are not particularly glamorous, but they are a faithful kitchen friend. They taste much better than most things that come from a can, and can be doctored in any number of ways to produce cheap and wholesome dishes suitable to any season of the year: chana masala, pasta e ceci, hummus, minestrone, in a garlicky puree, roasted with cumin, in a salad with olives and feta, in a summer vegetable stew, and on and on as long as tradition and invention do not fail you.
I most often make chickpeas in one of their many delicious Indian preparations. Today's recipe, though it shares several features with those dishes, is definitively Mediterranean--Catalan, specifically--and threatens to elbow batura chole out of its prime place in my kitchen rotation. The saffron, garlic, tomatoes, ground almonds, and lemon combine in a marvelous way.
We had some hot, with chopped blanched turnip greens stirred in to make a one-dish supper, and some cold, with salad, for lunch. Both ways are excellent. This does take a bit of time to make, so it's a good choice for the weekend, and, as promised, the results only get better as the week goes on.
I feel like a bit of a heel about it, but I've rewritten the recipe as I made it, for posterity here, even though my original source is already online and beautifully written, at The Traveler's Lunchbox. I just love it so much that it alarms me to think that I wouldn't have my own record of it, just in case.
My alterations are minor, but I stand behind them. I used arugula instead of parsley, because that's what I had on hand, and its peppery taste was a fine complement to the others. I decided that I wanted a bit more lemon flavor than the lemon juice alone could provide, and didn't want to go on making the sauce thinner by adding more and more juice. If you feel the same way, a touch of lemon zest or lemon oil will do the trick.
28oz (2 cans) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup olive oil 1 large onion, minced very, very fine or even grated
14 oz canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of saffron
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/3 c almonds, toasted or dry roasted, and unsalted
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, or arugula (a nice, slightly peppery alternative), chopped
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
Salt to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
A few drops of lemon oil, or finely chopped zest of 1/2 lemon
Before you start on the recipe proper, try one of the chickpeas. If it's not completely soft to the bite, you'll want to pre-cook them a bit: bring them to a boil in lightly salted water and cook until they're the consistency you like, about 10-20 minutes, then drain.
Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy pan. Sauté your very finely chopped onion slowly, slowly for about 25 or 30 minutes, until it is meltingly soft and turning golden brown. Then add the tomatoes and sugar and cook for about 15 minutes more, until everything melds together into an integrated paste. Turn off the heat.
While the onions are cooking, use a food processor or big mortar and pestle to make a thick paste of the saffron, garlic, almonds, and parsley or arugula. Add this paste to the onion mixture and mix gently and thoroughly, breaking up any lumps. Add splashes of broth as needed to facilitate this mixing, then pour in the rest and add the chickpeas, and give the whole thing a final stir.
Now turn the heat back on, to a medium-high flame, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Reduce liquid to a thick, clinging sauce. This takes about 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and zest or oil, then season with salt to taste. (Don't do it the other way around! The acid of the lemon brightens the flavor and reduces the amount of salt you'll need.)