Mediterranean chickpea salads

A few days ago a Mexican-American woman we met while shopping told me how frustrated she is with her attempts to please her Iranian born, chickpea-loving husband, and make him a good- tasting humous.

humous salad 88 (photo credit: )
humous salad 88
(photo credit: )
A few days ago a Mexican-American woman we met while shopping told me how frustrated she is with her attempts to please her Iranian born, chickpea-loving husband, and make him a good- tasting humous. She wanted to make humous with olive oil instead of tehina but her husband didn't like it. I suggested various ways to improve it. Finally I asked her, why not leave the chickpeas whole and make a salad. All you need to do is flavor the drained chickpeas with olive oil, lemon juice and a little salt and pepper. Then you can serve them as an appetizer or spoon them over lettuce. She loved this idea. It's easy and you don't need to wash a food processor. This formula is one of the best ways to enjoy canned chickpeas, especially as a summer supper or lunch. I consider it a basic for creating all sorts of salads. Most often I prepare it as a variation of Israeli salad. This enhanced Israeli salad couldn't be simpler to make. Just drain a can of chickpeas and add them to your salad, with a little extra dressing. With the chickpeas contributing protein, this salad can serve as a light vegetarian main course. You'll find chickpea salads in several Mediterranean countries. Ozcan Ozan, author of The Sultan's Kitchen, prepares a colorful Turkish chickpea salad, combining the basic chickpea-olive oil-lemon juice mixture with diced tomatoes, chopped parsley, red onion, garlic and plenty of seasonings - cumin, paprika and red pepper. Clifford Wright, author of Little Dishes of the Mediterranean, makes Madrid-style tapas (appetizers) from chickpeas combined with roasted hazelnuts, sauteed onions, green peppers, hot peppers and garlic. For an easy Sardinian-style antipasto, he mixes chickpeas with miniature tomatoes, olive oil and grated bottarga - dried tuna roe. Easier to find than bottarga is canned tuna, which Greeks sometimes add to chickpea salad. In Greek Meze Cooking, Sarah Maxwell recommends mixing tuna with the basic chickpea-olive oil-lemon juice salad and flavoring it with garlic, fresh dill, parsley and dry mustard. According to Henri Gault and Christian Millau's Guide Gourmand de La France, a volume that helped guide us in our gastronomic trips around the regions of France, chickpea salad is a specialty of Marseilles. To make a chickpea salad in the style of Provence, Richard Olney, author of Lulu's Provencal Table, cooks dried chickpeas with a whole peeled onion, a bay leaf and some winter savory sprigs. In typical French fashion, he uses wine vinegar in the olive oil dressing for the chickpea salad, which he serves warm and flavors with garlic and chopped sweet onion. Chickpea salads are especially popular in the Lebanese kitchen. Gracia Grego, author of Lebanese Cooking (in Hebrew) makes a traditional chickpea salad called fatteh with olive oil, garlic, paprika and parsley, to which she adds small bits of pita and moistens them with chickpea cooking liquid. For a creamy variation, George N. Rayess, author of Rayess' Art of Lebanese Cooking, substitutes labaneh for the olive oil. He flavors it with dried mint and adds a festive garnish of fried pine nuts. This technique of using pita in salad reminds me of another popular Middle Eastern salad, fattoush, which resembles Israeli salad with toasted pita added for crunch and a sprinkling of sumac powder. Indeed, some people do add chickpeas to their fattoush. Fayez Aoun, author of 280 Recettes de Cuisine Familiale Libanaise (280 recipes of Lebanese family cooking) uses crushed garlic and dried mint to flavor his simple chickpea salad dressed with olive oil and plenty of fresh lemon juice. For a more filling chickpea salad called safsouf, he mixes in soaked bulgur wheat as well. He notes that it originated as a stuffing for grape leaves and serves small tender grape leaves or romaine leaves to scoop up portions of the salad. CHICKPEA AND WHOLE WHEAT COUSCOUS SALAD WITH PISTACHIOS You can find whole wheat couscous in a natural foods store, or substitute plain couscous. If you'd like to make this salad with bulgur wheat, use two cups water and cook the bulgur for 15 minutes or until tender. To enliven the salad, I add colorful vegetables and a sprinkling of toasted pistachios. If you like, serve it on a bed of lettuce. 1⁄2 large zucchini or summer squash (keeshou), diced salt and freshly ground pepper 11⁄2 cups water 1⁄2 carrot, finely diced 1 cup whole wheat couscous or regular couscous 2 to 4 Tbsp. lemon juice 2 small garlic cloves, minced pinch of cayenne pepper 1 tsp. dried mint (optional) 1 cup cooked or canned corn kernels, drained 11⁄2 to 13⁄4 cups cooked chickpeas or a 400-gr. can, drained 1⁄3 cup toasted pistachios 3 to 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 onion, minced Heat one tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan, add onion and saute over medium heat for three minutes. Added zucchini, salt and pepper and saute for one minute. Cover and cook for one more minute. Remove vegetables to a bowl. Add water, carrot and a pinch of salt to saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for two minutes. Add couscous and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for seven minutes. Lightly spoon couscous mixture into a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Add remaining oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne and mint and mix lightly. Add corn, chickpeas and sauteed zucchini mixture and toss lightly. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve salad warm, cold or at room temperature, sprinkled with pistachios. Makes about 6 side-dish or 3 or 4 main-dish servings. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.