The chickpea is also known the garbanzo bean. It is considered to be the earliest cultivated legume, with evidence dating back to 6,000 BCE.
There are two types of garbanzo beans used in Indian cuisine; the smaller dark skinned beans known as desi channa and the larger white skinned beans known as kabuli channa. Both have nutty and creamy flavour, firm texture and minimal fat.
Chickpeas are used to make flour – besan – and are used whole in snacks, salads and dals. Some of our favourite recipes in this book feature chickpeas, or chickpea flour.
Cooking chickpeas is an art. Chickpeas are usually rapidly boiled for 10 minutes and then simmered for a longer period. Dried chickpeas need a very long cooking time, from 1–2 hours, but will easily fall apart when cooked too long. If soaked for 12–24 hours before use, cooking time can be shortened significantly. We always soak our dried chickpeas overnight, or longer, before cooking. The art is to get a cooked chickpea that still has texture.
Chickpeas soaked overnight will cook quite quickly in a pressure cooker.
Chickpeas are available both dried and canned from supermarkets and Indian grocers. Dried chickpeas are available from good health food shops. Canned chickpeas are good as they are soaked, and ready for cooking. Always rinse them well before cooking. Fresh, dried chickpeas will taste immeasurably better, but will take longer to cook.
Canned chickpeas last for up to five years, and dried chickpeas can be stored, in an airtight container, for up to one year. After that they lose their moisture and take longer to soak and cook.
Always rinse and sort chickpeas before cooking. Beans and lentils can have very small stones and debris that must be removed by hand.