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November 29, 2007

I usually make at least one meat-free meal each week, often featuring dried pulses.

Chickpeas are a good choice. They feature in a wide variety of ethnic cuisines and are very versatile. Sometimes I make an Indian dish, combining them with tomatoes in fragrant spicy sauce. Or we’ll have them Spanish stew with spinach or silverbeet. They make a good salad. And cooked chickpeas are an essential ingredient in hummus.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, ceci or channa, are a good source of protein for those on vegetarian or vegan diets. They are high in minerals, containing calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc and are also fibre-rich.

Chickpea flour is often used to make a batter for frying vegetables.

Throughout the Middle East, chickpeas are used for making falafels, small crisp-shelled savoury patties or balls. These are generally served with a salad in pita pockets. However, at this time of the year, with the party season upon us, they also make a delicious finger food, served simply with a tahini sauce.

I find a wok is ideal for cooking falafels. Make sure the oil is hot – test it with a cube of bread. The oil is ready if the cube floats and quickly turns golden brown. I use a large round slotted draining spoon to gently lower the chickpea balls into the hot oil.


250g dried chickpeas
1 small onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
vegetable oil for frying

Soak the chickpeas in cold water overnight.

Drain the chickpeas and place in the food processor with the remaining ingredients, except for the oil. Process the mixture until finely chopped.  You may need to do this in batches. The mixture should be sticky and hold together. Place in a bowl and refrigerate, uncovered, for two hours.

Take about two tablespoons of the mix at a time and, using your hands, press into balls. Fry in batches for around three minutes in hot oil till deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.

Serve in split pita pockets (or use squares of mountain bread), with chopped lettuce, tomato and cucumber and top with Tahini Sauce.

Tahini Sauce

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup tahini
1 cup thick plain yoghurt
juice of 1 lemon
salt to season
2 tablespoons chopped mint

Whip together and serve in a bowl, drizzled with a little olive oil.

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