When Beth called to tell me she’d spotted fresh chickpeas in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, I could barely contain my excitement. She emailed me a photo as further proof. Then Liz of Cafe Liz confirmed this discovery, confirmed how special it was. You see, fresh chickpeas (also called green chickpeas and fresh garbanzo beans) are only available in Jerusalem. Not in Tel Aviv at the Carmel Market. Certainly not in Be’er Sheva’s shuk. But there they are in Jerusalem, at both the Mahane Yehuda market and the smaller market just inside Damascus Gate, in the Arab section of the Old City.
And so, last week Beth and I hopped on a bus and traveled the hour and a half to Jerusalem, just for fresh chickpeas. From the Jaffa Gate, which manages to border the Christian, Armenian, and Jewish sections, we walked the entire length of the shuk to the Arab quarter and Damascus gate. Weaving through bumbling, fumbling tourists, ignoring shopkeepers cries to buy their wares, making wrong turns only to be greeted by soldiers with machine guns, places where we were not welcome. We tried to stay in as straight a line as possible, fearful that the labyrinthine alleyways would lead us astray (they always do, and sometimes getting lost in the Old City is fun, but today we were on a mission).
And there, just inside the Damascus Gate, were piles and piles of fresh chickpeas. Green, fuzzy little pods that resemble fresh almonds in shape, color, and texture. But unlike fresh almonds, which can be eaten shell and all, fresh garbanzos must be peeled. What waits inside is a green version (green both in appearance and taste) of what we’ve come to know as chickpeas. While the shape is recognizable as a chickpea, the flavor is more like that of a fresh sweet pea or edamame.
Many of us – vegetarians in particular – are well aware of the health benefits of chickpeas, and the fresh variety is if anything even more healthful. According to CaliFresh, a California producer of fresh chickpeas, the green legumes “are full of protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber and contain no trans or saturated fats. They are ‘nutrient dense,’ containing good amounts of vitamins A,C,& E, potassium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc and calcium as well as being a good source of folate, which is important for growing oxygen-carrying red blood cells.” They are also low in calories, high in fiber, and significantly lower in sodium than their canned cousins. Not to mention that they taste just delightful.
Armed with my pound of fresh chickpeas, I had to move to the next planning stage: deciding what to do with them. Beth told me she’d read that they could be fried and eaten like edamame, which sounded amazing. But I also had a vision of a salad in my head. It composed itself really. Fresh chickpeas, razor-thin slices of onion and radish, mint, lemon, and Bulgarian cheese. Bulgarian cheese is closely related to Feta with the same crumbly texture, but is less salty, with a more subtle, milky flavor. I actually prefer it and felt it would be more appropriate here, allowing the fresh chickpeas to shine. However, if Bulgarian cheese is not available Feta would be a good substitute.
Since I couldn’t decide which preparation I wanted more, I did both. And I have to say, they were each incredible, highlighting the fresh garbanzos in a different way. The charred chickpeas were smoky and salty, a snack that you have to work for, but with a worthwhile reward. And the salad was light and refreshing, perfect for summer and with flavors that just sang. I could eat this salad every day for the rest of my life.
Although fresh chickpeas are still uncommon, it seems that they are becoming more widely available so keep your eyes open at a local farmer’s market near you. For more recipe ideas, check out Beth Michelle’s roasted chickpeas and fresh chickpea guacamummus/hummamole, Cafe Liz’s tomato soup with fresh chickpeas and smoked wheat, and CaliFresh’s recipe page.
- Corn oil, or other high temperature oil (olive oil works too)
- 2 cups fresh chickpeas (in their shells)
- Coat pan in a thin layer of oil and heat over high heat. When the oil is hot (check by seeing if a drop of water sizzles on the pan) add the chickpeas. Allow to cook undisturbed 1 minute, or until the bottoms are slightly charred. Shake the pan to turn the chickpeas and cook for another minute or two, until charred to your liking. Toss with salt and serve. Eat like edamame, by squeezing the beans from their pods with your fingers and teeth.
- 1¾ cups fresh chickpeas, shelled
- ⅛ cup very thinly sliced onion
- 1 thinly sliced breakfast radish
- 1 tablespoon chiffonade mint
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup crumbled Bulgarian cheese
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Heat a large pot of salted water over medium heat. When boiling, add the chickpeas. Cook, stirring often, until tender and to your liking, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and run under cold water. Combine the chickpeas, onion, radish, and mint in a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and toss to combine. Top with Bulgarian cheese and season with salt and pepper.