As spring settles in many of us yearn for a nice fresh salad. Unfortunately, local produce is not yet available in many parts of the country. This week's recipe solves that problem by offering a colorful and crisp salad with something different for our taste buds.

Chickpeas, with their nutty taste and pleasing texture, are perfect for turning a salad into a satisfying meal. Also known as garbanzo beans, they supply generous amounts of B vitamins and protein delivered without high levels of fat or sodium. These ancient legumes may help lower cholesterol and are high in fiber, making them an excellent staple for people with diabetes. Domesticated chickpeas have been found in various archaeological sites, including Turkey and Syria, dating back to 8000 BC. During the ancient Greek and Roman times they were commonly preserved in honey.

The sweetness of the peppers and the buttery flavor of pine nuts complement the chickpeas. Pine nuts are an edible product of pine trees; they are small, elongated ivory-colored seeds found in pinecones. When lightly toasted they transform from a soft texture to one with a pleasant crunch. It takes 15 to 25 years for the trees to begin producing the seeds and up to 50 years for them to reach top production.

The lemon and softened basil leaves, blended with the garlic, oil and vinegar, combine to produce a decidedly Mediterranean taste. Cultivated since antiquity, basil originated in India, but gets its name from the Greek basileus, meaning "king." It's one of the few herbs whose flavor intensifies when cooked. So steaming brings out its best.

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Combined with the delightfully creamy dressing, this healthy and easy-to-make salad will wake up your taste buds for the fresh bounty of spring and summer to come.

Chickpea, Pepper and Pine Nut Salad

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored and cut into julienne strips
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 3 scallions, cut into julienne strips
  • 2 Tbsp. low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice and pulp
  • 1 Tbsp. wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, lightly steamed*
  • 1 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6-8 red lettuce leaves for serving bed

Directions

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  1. In medium mixing bowl, combine chickpeas, pepper, tomato and scallions.
  2. For creamy basil dressing, pour buttermilk, lemon juice and pulp, vinegar, oil and garlic into spice grinder or blender and process until thick. Add basil and process again until leaves are minced.
  3. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast pine nuts, stirring continually for about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn them.
  4. Pour dressing over chickpea mixture and toss well to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon onto lettuce leaves. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.

    *In small skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of water and heat until steaming. Add basil leaves, cover and reduce to medium heat. Steam leaves for 1/2 to 1 minute and remove from pan immediately.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
160 calories
6 g total fat
0 g saturated fat
22 g carbohydrate
7 g protein
5 g dietary fiber
45 mg sodium