Chickpea
Samantha Onyemenam Author photo

Culture Tuesday is a monthly column in which Best of Vegan Editor Samantha Onyemenam explores the cuisines of different cultures across the globe through a plant-based and vegan lens. This article about Arab cuisine was written in collaboration with Waseem Hijazi.

Arab cuisine

What is a Chickpea?

It’s Hummus. Not the dip…

Hummus is the Arabic word for Chickpeas. Belonging to the legumes family, they have similar attributes to lentils and beans. Hence, their other name in English is garbanzo Beans.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, the beloved Hummus dip is made exclusively using chickpeas. If it’s not made of chickpeas, it’s not Hummus. A more accurate name would then be a “Bean Dip”, or, “whatever the main ingredient is dip.”

Chickpeas
© Photo by Waseem (@plantbasedarab)

Types of Chickpeas

There are two main types of chickpeas – the Desi chickpea and the Kabuli chickpea. The Kabuli chickpea is the type that’s most commonly found in Western dishes. It is relatively large and round with a creamy colour, subtly sweetness, and smooth texture. On the other hand, the Desi chickpea is smaller and darker with a nutty and earthy flavour. This type of chickpea is most commonly used in Indian and Mediterranean cuisines.

Chickpeas are packed with nutrients and provide a lot of health benefits. They contain a relatively high amount of protein and fibre per serving, as well as vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium, calcium, and pyridoxine (vitamin B6). Making them a nutrient-dense, and filling, option to add to meals. In addition to these, and their versatility and affordability, they come in dried or canned forms. While both are great options, each is treated differently when it comes to preparation and cooking.

Chickpeas
© Photo by Waseem (@plantbasedarab)

Dried vs. Canned Chickpeas

The rule is: whatever you want to make with canned chickpeas, you can make with dry chickpeas. But not vice versa…

Recipes that turn chickpeas into a fryable patty (like the famous Falafel) require the use of dry chickpeas. This is because the extra moisture inside the soft canned chickpeas will cause the patties to fall apart when frying. Even partly cooked dry chickpeas, or soaked in hot water instead of cold/room temperature, will not result in an authentic fluffy Falafel texture on the inside. This is because dry chickpeas have a rougher texture that will ensure your Falafel dough holds together when frying in hot oil.

A common mistake when people from other cultures try making falafels for the first time is that they opt for canned/cooked chickpeas instead of dry ones. This often results in bits of oily mashed chickpeas which do not hold their shape.

Dry chickpeas
© Photo by Waseem (@plantbasedarab)
Dry Chickpeas

There are pros and cons to working with dry chickpeas. While dry chickpeas are fairly cheaper than canned chickpeas, it takes a longer time to prep before cooking. The beans must first be rinsed and then soaked in a bowl of water (sometimes, with baking soda to speed things up) for 18 to 24 hours till they double, or even triple, in size and look similar to the canned chickpeas. Despite looking like canned chickpeas, it would still be hard enough that it cannot be squeezed by hand.

The chickpeas then have to be rinsed off after discarding the water they soaked in. At this point, they can either be used raw to create dishes like Falafel patties, or boiled in a pot to cook until softened to the bite (similar to al dente) for use in everyday recipes.

Chickpeas
© Photo by Waseem (@plantbasedarab)
Canned Chickpeas

Canned chickpeas are more approachable for quick and easy everyday meals. They are ready to eat straight from the can, but they can also be added to salads, on top of Middle Eastern dips, or even smashed with spices and sauce for a loaded breakfast sandwich. They also come in handy for making traditional foods (like Hummus) quickly and more conveniently. While the brine/liquid from the can should be rinsed off of the chickpeas before using them in certain recipes, it can be reserved to use later to veganise other recipes. Like replacing eggs in baking, such as vegan egg wash, to make dairy-free whipping cream, mousse, and more.

Note: Depending on the type, one cup of dry chickpeas will yield (after soaking) a similar amount found in a 19oz can of chickpeas.

Cultural Significance

Chickpeas were originally cultivated in the Levant, and have always been an essential part of the Arab & Middle Eastern cuisines. Especially when it comes to the traditionally vegan dishes. Chickpeas make up a big part of the classic Mezze – a spread of dips and side dishes that are often shared with family as part of breakfast or appetiser – often in the forms of Hummus, Fatteh, Fuul, Balila, Falafel, and many others dishes and dips. While it is common to enjoy Mezze any day of the week, it is tradition for many Arabs to serve an extensive spread of dishes on Fridays (considered the weekend in most Arabic countries).

The humble chickpeas have been growing for thousands of years in many countries across the region. Including Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, and others. Contributing to cultural exchanges and culinary influence, they were one of the earliest crops of legumes to be cultivated in the Middle East and made their way across the world through ancient trade routes. Fast forward to today, chickpeas are a global household staple and are a major part of culture and food heritage in many cuisines around the world. From ancient Greece to India, and parts of Europe like Italy and Spain. Even Canada, the United States, and Australia are now large producers of the chickpea.

Chickpeas types
© Photo by Waseem (@plantbasedarab)

What Can Be Made with Chickpeas?

The Arab and Middle Eastern cuisines are proof of the true versatility of chickpeas. You can have them for any meal of the day. You will find them in shareable breakfast dishes (also known as, Mezze spread), in soups and salads for a light lunch, and even as a hearty loaded dinner. But it does not stop there. Chickpeas are also enjoyed as a midday snack, as a topping to other dishes, and much more.

Cumin is a common spice that’s often paired with chickpeas in many recipes, including the hearty Balila, Falafel, and cozy Moghrabieh stew. The best part? Many of these meals are already traditionally vegan and hold lots of cultural significance to the culinary heritage of Arab cuisine.

Here is a collection of 10 vegan Arabic recipes that feature the humble chickpea:

Balila

(By Janelle – Plant Based Folk)

Balila (or Ba-Lee-Lah) is a popular street food in Lebanon and Syria. Often named ‘Hummus Balila’, referring to cooked chickpeas, which are simply boiled with spices and served as is. Freshly cooked in a large pot, carried on a cart, and strolling around the streets. They are mostly present during Ramadan nights. The warm and cozy smell of boiled chickpeas with cumin travels through and attracts the people walking to stop for a hearty filling snack or Suhour.

Dry chickpeas work best in the Balila recipe. The water they are cooked in is used to enhance the flavours of the dish. Canned chickpeas also work, and are more convenient for a quick meal in the morning. Served with warm pita to scoop up some of the Balila, like Hummus, or enjoyed as is. It pairs well with Fuul Mudammes (Fava Bean Dip) for breakfast, along with other cozy Mezze items, and fresh and pickled vegetables.

warm-chickpeas
Balila © Janelle – Plant Based Folk. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Hummus

(By Waseem – Plant Based Arab)

The beloved creamy dip that is now enjoyed worldwide. Despite recent popularity and trendiness, Hummus has been a staple dish in Arab cuisine since the 13th century. A versatile dip that can be enjoyed in sandwiches, as a shareable side alongside other Mezze dishes, and beyond. It is not uncommon to see it on the breakfast table every other day (if not daily). Hummus is historically sold in tubs at local stores that specialise in making Mezze dishes. Often accompanied with a special spicy garlic condiment called ‘Shatta,’ to go on top when serving; but that’s optional.

While some recipes may call for oil and additional spices (like cumin or paprika), traditional Hummus is made only with chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and a dash of salt. Drizzled with good quality extra virgin olive oil on top (not in the mixture). Mainly to add rich flavourful and healthy fats, and to prevent the Hummus from going dry. With a handful of ingredients, Hummus is an easy no-cook recipe that can be ready on the table in 5 to 10 minutes (using canned chickpeas).

Hummus
Hummus © Waseem – Plant Based Arab. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Musabaha

(By Yosra – Zaatar And Zaytoun)

Pronounced, ‘Mu-Sab-Ba-Ha,’ it is a crossover between Balila and Hummus. A very popular dish in Syria and Lebanon, with similar variations in Jordan and Palestine. Enjoyed year-round, with special appearances during the colder seasons.

Instead of blending the chickpeas with the ingredients to make a smooth Hummus dip, the Balila (boiled chickpeas) are mashed up by hand with a fork in a bowl of garlic tahini sauce. Leaving some in whole to top off the dish. If using canned chickpeas to make Musabaha, it can be cooked in its existing liquids from the can (aquafaba).

It will add more of a creamy feel to the chickpeas, and the overall dish. The cozy cumin spices meld with rich and nutty tahini flavours, creating a hearty dip with chunky bits of texture in every bite. Unlike Hummus, Musabaha is served warm. Making it a great side dish to go along with a winter Mezze spread. Dig into it by dunking it with a warm pita, or enjoy it as is with spoonfuls of the dip.

Musabaha
Musabaha © Yosra – Zaatar And Zaytoun. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Falafel

(By Waseem – Plant Based Arab)

The famous crispy patties with the iconic green fluffy insides. Originating in Egypt, Falafel was initially created using fava beans instead of chickpeas. They were originally made by grinding up the fava beans with a mix of herbs, including parsley, cilantro, dill, onions, garlic, and warm

and earthy spices like cumin and coriander. The ground mixture is shaped into small round or oval-shaped patties, using a hand mould. Then deep fried in oil until golden brown.

As the dish expanded across the Middle East, various countries have adopted similar versions of the Falafel, often replacing fava beans with chickpeas (as it was fairly cheaper). In Syria for example, the Falafel mixture contains fewer herbs (and sometimes a hint of turmeric), resulting in a yellowy interior instead of green.

They are also shaped slightly differently, with a hole in the centre of each patty (similar to a tiny doughnut). Regardless of the type of bean used, there is one thing every region has in common when it comes to making Falafel. They are always made with dry beans, never canned. This is because of the rougher texture of dry chickpeas that yields a consistent Falafel dough that will hold together when frying in hot oil.

Falafel is not only a popular street food across the Middle East but is considered to be a household staple for family meal time and special occasions.

Falafel
Falafel © Waseem – Plant Based Arab. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Fattet Hummus

(By Nada – One Arab Vegan)

Fatteh is Arabic for crumbs. In food terms, it refers to the popular dishes made using leftover bread turned into crumbs (or larger pieces). Plated with different layers of fillings and sauces in between. Depending on the type of Fatteh being made, the name of the final dish changes. If made with eggplants, then it’s Eggplant Fatteh (or Fattet Batinjan). Other Fatteh dishes include different types of meat, Hummus, and more.

It’s one of those recipes that have endless variations. No matter what version is being made, they all have common base ingredients: pita bread, tahini and/or yoghurt, and toasted nuts on top (usually pine nuts). While each Fatteh may have originated in different regions of the Middle East, this Fattet Hummus is most popular in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine.

Hummus
Fattet Hummus © Nada – One Arab Vegan. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Fuul Mudammes

(By Waseem – Plant Based Arab)

Translates to Smashed Fava Beans in English. It’s the ultimate comfort food when it comes to a Mezze spread. With origins dating back to Egypt, it’s a beloved dish that’s enjoyed across the Middle East and North Africa. Popular in Sudan, Jordan, and Lebanon, this Fava Bean Dip is served hot and fresh for breakfast. Some local restaurants in Jordan spread it as a base in a Falafel pita sandwiches.

While traditionally the dish is made solely using fava beans, some tribes and regions make it with an equal amount of fava beans and chickpeas. Boiled to cook down with warm earthy spices, then smashed into a creamy paste. Topped with freshly chopped tomatoes and parsley. Drizzled with a garlicky lemon and olive oil mixture. Making it a wholesome dip to accompany the rest of your Mezze dishes.

Beans Dip
Fuul Mudammes © Waseem – Plant Based Arab. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Koshari

(By Amira – Amira’s Pantry)

Egypt’s national dish. Koshari is one of the classic street foods that’s beloved by millions around the world. It’s a staple in Egyptian cuisine and often served for guests on special occasions and food parties. A hearty comfort meal that consists of 5 components: (1) Rice and lentils, (2) Boiled chickpeas, (3) Rich tomato sauce, (4) Small pasta, and (5) Crispy onions. Using up pantry items to create a wholesome meal, it’s an affordable recipe that’s accessible for everyone, and great for people on a budget.

Even though it takes quite a bit of time to prepare, Koshari is a well-worth it recipe to make in large batches to meal-prep for the week (storing everything separately). While chickpeas may not be the main ingredient of the dish, it adds a load of fiber and protein along with the lentils, making it one of the healthiest naturally- vegan Arabic dishes. With highly nutritious value, Koshari is a loaded dish that’s often enjoyed for lunch or dinner.

Koshari
Koshari © Amira’s Pantry. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Moghrabieh

(By Waseem – Plant Based Arab)

A cozy stew that unites different parts of the Middle Eastern cuisine. Moghrabieh is Arabic for Couscous, as well as the name of this dish. It means “From the Maghreb”; which is the western region of the Arab world (North Africa). It is where couscous was first cultivated in countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya. This comforting couscous stew is cooked with chickpeas that are flavoured in warm spices like caraway and cumin. Simmered slowly in a rich and hearty meat broth (usually chicken). It’s a bowl of comfort that celebrates a fusion of flavours and textures.

Moghrabieh is the Syrian and Lebanese term for the stew, while similar versions can be found in the Jordanian and Palestinian cuisines under the name “Maftoul”. All of which rely heavily on including chickpeas in the dish. Making it a well-balanced meal for the winter season. While it’s not a vegan dish by default, it’s an easy one to adapt for a plant based version, using mushrooms to replicate the meaty texture.

Couscous Stew
Moghrabieh © Waseem – Plant Based Arab. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Balila Salad

(By Janelle – Plant Based Folk)

This Chickpea Salad is a refreshing Lebanese side dish that can be enjoyed for any meal of the day. Often served as part of a Mezze spread. Both dry or canned chickpeas can be used to make Balila Salad. In either case, the chickpeas are cooked down to flavour with spices. After cooking, they can be used immediately to enjoy warm. Or cooled down first before adding to the remaining salad ingredients. Combined with fresh tomatoes, onions, parsley, and mint. Mixed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice. It’s also a satisfying meal on its own to enjoy for a quick breakfast.

Chickpea-Salad
Balila Salad © Janelle – Plant Based Folk. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

Qidameh

(By Waseem – Plant Based Arab)

Chickpeas are also enjoyed as a snack on their own across Syria. Known as “Qidameh”, these crispy roasted chickpeas are frequently offered as street food in carts, similar to the Balila recipe from earlier. The original Qidameh is made plain, with no additional spices or flavours, aside from salt. Traditionally made by toasting dry chickpeas in a large skillet/pan. Stirring occasionally with splashes of salt water, while keeping covered with a lid. This helps soften the insides of each chickpea, while maintaining a crunchy bite on the outside.

For an easier homemade approach to a larger batch, Qidameh can be made by using canned chickpeas instead, making sure each chickpea is completely dry before roasting. Additional flavourings are optional to make it extra tasty, savoury, or even spicy.

Roasted Chickpeas
Qidameh © Waseem – Plant Based Arab. Click on the image to get the full recipe.

More Arab Recipes You Might Like

Article by Samantha OnyemenamFeatured Image Credit: Waseem – Plant Based Arab

Arab cuisine

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