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Saturday, February 24

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Ingredient Wed Jan 14 2009

Fresh Chickpeas!

fresh chickpeasThe other day, I saw something I'd seen but never bothered to try before: a pile of fresh chickpeas at an international grocery store on Devon. I don't know what tempted me to pick them up this time, but for some reason, I did. If you have never seen fresh chickpeas before, you probably wouldn't recognize them as such: they don't really look like chickpeas at all. They are in pale green shells roughly the size and shape of a one-nutted peanut, covered in soft fuzz--nothing like the slightly bumpy, yellow orbs that you find, dried in bags or packed in cans. A few nights later, when we had a big salad for dinner--baby spinach, grape tomatoes, crispy bacon bits, hard-boiled eggs, creamy sherry mustard dressing--I decided to throw in the chickpeas.

According to some websites (like this one from one of the major growers) I looked at, fresh chickpeas needed to be boiled briefly in salted water. So I did that. When boiled for a minute or two, they turned the most beautiful light emerald in color, daring me to think of the spring that's not quite here yet. Then came the challenge: the pees had to be shelled. I started peeling the shell of one, and it sprang up for self-defense (of a sort). As I held the shell, I felt a sharp prick in my forefinger. Unbeknownst to me, there was a sharp, slightly curved sting at one end of the shell, much like a wasp's, and I pushed that right into my own finger, trying to hold the slippery shell still. Before long, I learned to watch out for this malicious little weapon, but it was hard to avoid. I got a bunch more pricks before I was done shelling the handful.

Then there was the problem of the splashes. When the chickpeas were boiled in-shell, the shells filled with water. As I couldn't help squeezing the puffed-up shells when I held them, some of that water squirted out. The shell's curvy contour ensured that this squirt hit me right in the eye. After a few of those attacks, it became kind of funny to be randomly hit by the thin, silvery projectile, sort of like a Russian roulette. On a different note, though, it distinctly reminded me of my friend who once said that she had to be careful when she changes her baby boy, because he liked to projectile-pee into her face when he is free of the constraints of diapers.

Under this tough, hairy outer shell, chickpeas are further protected by opaque, snug-fitting skin. As much as I didn't want to spend more time trying to get this slippery layer off the chickpeas, it seemed thick and tough enough to be noticeable in our mouths, so I resigned myself to the task. With the help of my husband, the whole shelling and peeling probably took fifteen minutes--and I was only shelling a handful of chickpeas. When all the peas were naked and gleaming in intense green, I was dismayed: there was only about a tablespoonful of them. It felt like I (well, we) shelled a cupful. (But then again, we did shell two cupfuls; it's just that a cupful of shell-on chickpeas contains less than a tablespoon of actual peas. Ah well.)

So, in the end, was that worth the effort? It's hard to say. The chickpeas were delicious. They were tender yet had some crunch. They tasted green, a little earthy, and very sweet; nothing like the flavorless mush you'd normally get in a can. The fresh chickpeas were more like vegetable than peas, really. But then again, it takes an awful lot of time and sense of humor to shell them without getting cranky. Maybe the thing to do is to buy them in a huge bulk, boil them up and shell them while watching a movie on a weekend--although they might seize the chance and sting you in the finger, or splash you in the eye, when you aren't looking.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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