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PROUSE: Plant protein from the cupboard

Chickpeas are used in numerous cuisines, including European, South Asian and Middle Eastern.
Chickpeas are used in numerous cuisines, including European, South Asian and Middle Eastern. - 123RF Stock Photo

As they increase in popularity, chickpeas can be used in many types of dishes, including salads, soups, dips and curries

The quest to take advantage of food that has accumulated in my cupboards continues. I am soaking chickpeas to make falafel sandwiches tomorrow.

When I first encountered these round, straw-coloured legumes, I was intrigued by the fact that they go by so many names: garbanzo beans (Spanish), chickpeas (English), gram (Indian), channa (also Indian) and ceci (Italian). That should have been the tip-off that they are used in numerous cuisines, including European, South Asian and Middle Eastern.

Since they were grown in Neolithic times in what is now Sicily, chickpeas have been introduced far and wide, including in Canada, where they are grown in the Prairies, mainly in Saskatchewan. They are increasing in popularity as a tasty, inexpensive source of plant protein that can be used in many types of dishes, including salads, soups, dips (most famously, hummus) and curries.

Chickpeas are available both canned and dried. They will keep for years if stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. However, the longer they are stored, the drier they become and, therefore, the longer it takes for them to cook.

The first step in preparing dried chickpeas is to begin the rehydration process by soaking them in cold water. After soaking in about three times their volume of water overnight, drain and discard the soaking water before cooking in 2½ to 3 times their volume of fresh water.

Make sure your saucepan is big enough, as they will double or triple in size during cooking. To prevent foaming during cooking, add 5 mL (1 tsp) of vegetable oil to the cooking water. Add seasonings such as garlic, onion or herbs to the cooking water if you wish, and cook slowly to avoid breaking the seed coats. It takes 1½ to 2 hours for chickpeas to cook on the stovetop, and considerably less (12 to 15 minutes) in a pressure cooker. Check manufacturer’s instructions for pressure cooking details.

Falafel, originating in the Middle East and enjoyed widely in Canadian Mediterranean restaurants, are little fried patties or balls made from ground chickpeas and spices. They are often served wrapped in pita bread and topped with flavourful garnishes. In this recipe, the chickpeas are presoaked, but not precooked, before being ground, shaped into balls and fried.

Falafel Sandwiches

Adapted from Faita, Stefano:”In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita”. Penguin, Toronto, 2013.


375 mL (1½ cups) dried chickpeas

15 to 30 mL (1 to 2 tbsp) water

½ onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

250 mL (1 cup) chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

5 mL (1 tsp) ground cumin

Pinch dried oregano

salt and freshly ground pepper

To Assemble

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

6 medium to large pitas, top third cut off

lettuce leaves

tomato slices

onion slices

pickled turnips

tahini sauce (recipe follows)

Soak chickpeas in water to cover by 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 inches). Refrigerate for 24 hours. The chickpeas should triple in volume.

Drain and rinse chickpeas. Place chickpeas in a food processor. Pulse until mixture has a coarse meal texture, adding 15 to 30 mL (1 to 2 tbsp) water, if needed. Add onions, garlic, parsley, cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until mixture is finely ground.

Measure heaping tablespoons (18 mL) of the mixture and roll into 4 cm (1½ inch) balls or discs.

Add oil to a deep fryer, or pour enough oil into a deep skillet to come 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 inches) up sides of pan. Heat oil over medium heat to 180 C (350 F). Working in batches if necessary, fry falafels, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Divide falafels among pita pockets. Tuck in lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickled turnip. Drizzle in tahini sauce. Roll up sandwich and serve.

Makes 6 servings

Tahini Sauce

Adapted from O’Brien, Richard & Patti Habib: “The Bamboo Cooks”. Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, 1997.

3 cloves garlic, minced

60 mL (4 tbsp) tahini

45 mL (3 tbsp) lemon juice

2 mL (½ tsp) salt

5 mL (1 tsp) paprika

1 mL (¼ tsp) cayenne

25 mL (2 tbsp) cold water

Combine all ingredients thoroughly in bowl. If sauce is too thick, thin with a little more water.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at

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