Nothing against barbecue-style baked beans, all tangy sauced and full of smoky burnt end drippings — hi summer, get here quick please — but I hardly see why navy beans get to have all of the fun. Where are the baked kidney beans, black-eyed peas and gigantes? Baking is a phenomenal way to cook dried beans and a great way to make something more complex of canned ones; when you start considering flavors, the sky, nay, the globe is the limit. I want these red beans slow-baked in a big casserole, scooped with tortilla chips. I want baked black beans heaped over tostones, braised white beans over Catalan-style tomato bread and I want what we had for dinner last night for the first time all over again, because it was perfect.
In an attempt to wean myself from my ongoing obsessive fixation on all things Tex-Mex — taco, tortilla, fajita and quesadilla — I didn’t get as far as it may seem. Sure, I spiked my baked chickpeas with Middle Eastern spices, but once I’d scooped them onto oven-crisped pita chips, dolloped it with lemon-tahini yogurt sauce, a finely chopped tomato-cucumber salad, well-toasted pine nuts, hot sauce and a fistful of chopped parsley, I realized I’d basically made Middle Eastern nachos. And I’m not even a little sorry.
Because this was one of our best dinners in ages — I’m struggling to control my gushing here, to be honest — and I’m so glad I made a full pound of beans, so we can have more for tonight. It was the kind of vegetarian meal (and vegan, too, if you omit the yogurt) that you totally forgot was, because it was incidental. It’s playful and fun to lay out many elements and let everyone pile them on as they see fit. And, because it was crunchy and fresh but also warm, fragrant and insanely filling, it felt like the perfect meal to bridge the heavy foods of winter and the brighter ones to come. More of this, please.
One year ago: Whole-Grain Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Two years ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Torte
Three years ago: Soft Eggs with Buttery Herb Gruyere Toasts
Four years ago: Oat and Maple Syrup Scones
Five years ago: Bakewell Tart
Six years ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake and Strawberry Coulis
Seven years ago: Caramel Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake
Eight years ago: Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas and Red Peppers
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Latke Waffles
1.5 Years Ago: Frico Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
2.5 Years Ago: Crackly Banana Bread
3.5 Years Ago: Roasted Tomato Soup with Broiled Cheddar
Baked Chickpeas with Pita Chips and Yogurt
My baked chickpea curiousity began many years ago, when Amanda Hesser shared a recipe in the New York Times from a Basque cookbook for baked garbanzos in 1999 (yes, I’m old). I’d forgotten about it until the Times relaunched their Cooking section last fall, but I was thrown by the need for saffron threads, which are expensive to procure and likely meant that most people wouldn’t make it. So, I got to thinking about what other cultures and flavors could be applied, and landed in the Middle East. In short, it’s not the first time I’ve gone all the way around to realize later I was making something that already existed, a dish known as fatteh.
Note: To make this gluten-free, make your chips from gluten-free wraps or pitas. To make this vegan or dairy-free, make a lemon-tahini sauce, minus the yogurt. (It can be thinned with water, once you get the lemon level where you like it.)
Serves 6 generously, if eaten nacho-style
For the chickpeas
1 pound dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or 4 15-ounce cans cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika or sumac
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, spoonful of harissa or a couple shakes of your favorite hot sauce (all adjusted to your heat preference)
Few gratings fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons coarse sea or kosher salt (what I used for lightly salted broth, use more for unsalted, less for salted or canned beans)
4 cups vegetable broth (for dried but soaked chickpeas), 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (for cooked chickpeas)
1 cup or more of water (will likely only need if beans weren’t pre-soaked)
Fixings (all instructions below)
Fresh pitas for pita chips
Big handful of parsley (or a mix of parsley, cilantro and mint would be good too)
1/4 cup pine nuts
Tomato-cucumber “relish” salad
Lemon-tahini yogurt or plain yogurt
Additional paprika or sumac for sprinkling
Soak dried chickpeas: Do you have to soak beans before you cook them? Nope, no, nope. But it will save a lot of cooking time, making this more of a one-hour weeknight meal. So, if you can plan ahead, soak them in an ample amount of water at room temperature for 24 hours. Don’t have 24 hours? I soaked mine for 3. I will make final cooking time estimations based on soaking times. Using canned beans? Skip this step entirely.
Prepare your chickpeas: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). In a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven (mine was 4 quarts, an ideal size), heat olive oil in the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add garlic and saute garlic and onions together for 3 to 4 minutes more, until everything is wilted. Add spices, zest and salt and cook with onions and garlic for one minute. Add drained soaked or canned chickpeas and:
- for already cooked or canned chickpeas: 1 1/2 cups broth
- for dried chickpeas that have been soaked: 4 cups broth
- for dried chickpeas that have not been soaked: 4 cups broth and 1 cup water to start
Bring mixture to a boil and boil for one full minute. Place a lid on the pot and transfer it carefully to the oven.
Bake your chickpeas: Please keep in mind that cooking beans isn’t a perfect science, and the amount absorbed if pre-soaked or not, the age and freshness of the chickpeas and even the softness of ones from a can are going to affect how much cooking time and liquid is needed. But, these estimates are fairly solid from my experience:
- for already cooked or canned chickpeas: bake for 15 minutes
- for dried chickpeas that had been soaked: bake for 45 minutes (estimate for 24 hours soaking) to 75 minutes (estimate for 2 to 3 hours soaking)
- for dried chickpeas that had not been soaked: bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, but start checking in every 10 to 15 minutes from 50 minutes on to see if more liquid or cooking time will be needed
Chickpeas are done when they’re firm-tender.
Meanwhile, prep your fixings: While the chickpeas bake, prepare any fixings that caught your eye:
To make pita chips from store-bought pitas: Separate the layers of pitas and cut into wedges. Arrange on a large baking sheet and brush lightly with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake alongside chickpeas for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing occasionally to ensure that they toast evenly. Let cool.
To toast pine nuts: Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven while the chickpeas bake for 5 minutes, tossing once or twice as they like to toast unevenly. Let cool.
To make a tomato-cucumber “relish” salad: Chop a handful of whatever decent-looking tomatoes you can find in March, and 1 large or a few smaller cucumbers into very small pieces. Finely chop 1/4 a small red onion. Mix vegetables and onion in a bowl and dress to taste with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.
To make lemon-tahini yogurt: Whisk 6 tablespoons well-stirred tahini in the bottom of a bowl. Whisk in the juice of a whole lemon, 1 minced garlic clove and 4 tablespoons water until smooth. Whisk in 1 cup plain yogurt, about 1/4 at a time, until smooth. Season with salt. Adjust all levels to taste.
Serve and let everyone assemble: We started with a handful of pita chips on our plan, then heaped on the baked chickpeas, dolloped on the yogurt sauce, tomato-cucumber “relish” salad, sprinkled everything with parsley and pine nuts and then a couple of us also shook on some hot sauce. Dig in.
See also: The Middle Eastern food blog Desert Candy, which I’ve been reading for years but apparently missed the wrong month to fall behind, shared a recipe last week for “Nile Nachos” which use roasted instead of baked/braised chickpeas. I love this idea (and the fresh radishes on top); it feels snackier/lighter and a great fit for a party. I recommend patting canned chickpeas dry very well on paper towels before roasting them or they don’t get very crisp. I find that freshly-cooked beans, which tend to be firmer, crisp up better in the oven.