Many of us love eating garbanzo beans - also called chickpeas - when we're dining out in ethnic restaurants. But can we use them in everyday dishes at home? The answer is a resounding "Of course." Health-conscious Americans are increasingly using these nutritious legumes in salads, stews, and dips. Chickpeas offer a rich supply of protein, vitamins and fiber - all of which your body needs to reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Originally found in the Middle East, chickpeas made their way east to India and west through Spain and into Europe. The Spanish, who gave them the name "garbanzo," brought chickpeas to the New World in the 1600s, where they spread in popularity from Mexico throughout Latin America. In the Middle East and North Africa, garbanzos are used pureed in dips or whole in salads and casserole-type dishes. Dried chickpeas are ground into a flour to make falafel, a type of fried bean patty.

Whether labeled chickpea or garbanzo, this legume can be found in most supermarkets and is inexpensive as well as plentiful. You can buy garbanzo beans dried, or canned and ready to use. The easier option is buying them canned - the flavor isn't significantly harmed by the commercial canning process. If you do choose to buy them dried, check the packet's expiration date, because chickpeas past their prime won't soften, regardless of how long they are soaked.

You can add canned chickpeas to green salads or feature them as a main ingredient. For a salad, toss garbanzos in a bowl with minced onion, and sprinkle with a garlicy vinaigrette. Add some chopped fresh cilantro leaves and salt and pepper to taste, then let stand for 30 minutes before serving. You can also make a flavorful, hearty soup by cooking canned chick peas, potatoes, garlic and carrots in a chicken or vegetable broth. Simmer for 20 minutes, adding a handful of mixed greens during the last 10 minutes.

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Want to make a slightly exotic entree? Heat a little oil in a non-stick skillet, then slowly saute minced garlic and chopped onion, adding a little curry powder when the onion becomes translucent. Then add a thawed-out block of frozen spinach and a can of chickpeas, including the liquid. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 20 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and the spinach is tender. Serve over brown rice, couscous, or other whole grains.

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Hummus - chickpeas pureed with other ingredients - is found throughout the Middle East and is almost a national condiment in Israel. It's fast becoming popular in this country, too. Ready-made hummus can be pricey, but a homemade version that is also low in calories can be made quickly. Serve with cut-up veggies or pita bread.


Lite Hummus Spread

  • 1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-2 cloves finely minced garlic (or to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame tahini
  • 6 Tbsp. vegetable bouillon or water
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Tabasco sauce (optional)
  1. In blender, place beans, tahini, garlic, bouillon or water, lemon juice and oil. Blend on high speed until mixture is smooth. Add salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to taste, if desired.
  2. Pour mixture into serving bowl. Dust with a light sprinkling of paprika. Serve with cut-up raw vegetables and pita bread.

Makes about 1 cup.
Per tablespoon: 31 calories, 1 g. fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
4 g. carbohydrate, 1 g. protein, 1 g. dietary fiber, 80 mg. sodium

AICR