I don’t know what it is, exactly, but lately I’ve been savoring simplicity, eating fruits and vegetables, often with almost no prep whatsoever. No meat this week: I’ve had a crush on ceci (chick peas). Yes, you read that right, and no, I have no shame in admitting it. I wonder how this simple little garbanzo bean could be so damned delicious?
I cooked them the other night in my trusted pressure cooker (which I’ve been using less frequently, BTW) but had no lemons for hummous, so I first ate them in a spring mix salad with a simple red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing (and remembered for some reason the Italian nurses’ panelle ). Another day I ate them with thinly sliced vidalia onion and olive oil. A few bites in, I decided to add some cumin (remembering the Moroccan flavors I once adored). This morning I had hummous on my mind, grabbed some lemons on my way back from errands, and decided to revisit the tastes of Lebanon with Saad’s baba ghanoush, the best in the city.
Turns out the chick pea’s history follows a similar, yet backwards path through history:
Garbanzo beans originated in the Middle East, the region of the world whose varied food cultures still heavily rely upon this high protein legume. The first record of garbanzos being consumed dates back about seven thousand years. They were first cultivated around approximately 3000 BC. Their cultivation began in the Mediterranean basin and subsequently spread to India and Ethiopia.
Garbanzos were grown by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and were very popular among these cultures. During the 16th century, garbanzo beans were brought to other subtropical regions of the world by both Spanish and Portuguese explorers as well as Indians who emigrated to other countries. Today, the main commercial producers of garbanzos are India, Pakistan, Turkey, Ethiopia and Mexico.
I always find it interesting how the simple act of eating triggers such vivid recall. Turning back to my thoughts of Italy, panelle are fried chick pea flour ‘fritters’ that I can’t even say I liked all that much. I liked the people who introduced them to me though, and share here Cristina Randazzo’s recipe from the Italian cookbook we published for the ISMETT nurses in Spring 1998:
Palermo’s Typical Panelle
“I learned this recipe from my mother, Theresa. I make it all year, but it is typical in Palermo on December 13, for the day of St. Lucy.”
4 cups of flour of chick peas
1 teasoon salt
4 cups of water
Put the chick pea flour and salt in a pot.
Add the water and stir it on low heat for 20 minutes,
When the flour and water are mixed and dense, add parsley and turn off the heat.
Pour the mixture in a mold and cool for 3 hours.
When it is cool, cut in slices and fry for 2 minutes.
Panelle are sometimes served on small sandwiches with lemon juice.