Weeknight cooking used to be a breeze for me—I shopped at the market daily on my way home from work, picking up whatever looked good and cooking simple meals. Then last year my husband, Matt, and I opened a restaurant and had a baby girl, so now it’s a miracle if I get anything resembling dinner on our table on our nights off.
But recently, a solution came to me as a memory: When I was a child, my mom often had a pot of beans simmering away on the stove. I finally realize why. It’s worth the small effort it takes to soak dried beans on, say, a Saturday night and then simmer them to tenderness on Sunday afternoon; from that one pot you’ll have a big head start on a variety of tasty meals for the rest of the week.
I know what you’re thinking—opening a can of cooked chickpeas is even easier, and they taste OK, too. But the truth is, home-cooked dried beans just taste better than canned, especially chickpeas (garbanzo beans), which are my go-to dried bean. When cooked properly—a very simple thing to do—dried chickpeas become rich, buttery, and creamy on the inside while maintaining their shape. They also have a lot less sodium than their canned counterparts, and you can flavor them to your liking, as I do in the recipe opposite by adding bay leaves, fresh herbs, and an onion to the pot. A gentle simmer for just over an hour yields tender, creamy beans (and flavorful cooking liquid) that are ready to be turned into several more delicious dinners.
The following recipes are some of my favorite ways to use cooked chickpeas, including a super-simple recipe for pasta with chickpeas and rosemary that was a staple in my house growing up. For a delicious main-course salad, try combining roasted chicken and cauliflower with the chickpeas, fresh arugula, and quickly pickled red onion. You can also add chickpeas to a skillet supper of braised cabbage with cheesy, prosciutto-topped pork medallions, or purée them into a luscious side dish for spiced lamb chops.
Who knew that a big pot of beans would be the key to helping me get dinner back on the table? Thanks, Mom.
Tips for Tender Chickpeas
It’s easy to cook dried chickpeas to creamy perfection if you keep a couple of things in mind:
Buy your dried chickpeas (or any dried bean) from a store with high turnover. If the chickpeas have been sitting on the shelf for a year or more, they may cook unevenly or even fail to soften. Natural food and ethnic markets are good sources for dried beans, as are ranchogordo.com and markethallfoods.com.
Soak dried beans for the best results. An overnight soak ensures that the beans will cook evenly and negates some of the gaseous side effects. Refrigerate the soaking beans to avoid bacterial growth and offset the chance that the beans will ferment.
Don’t quick-soak the beans by boiling them for a few minutes and then letting them sit in the hot water. They won’t cook as evenly or have the same smooth texture.
Simmer gently. Once the chickpeas have come to a boil, immediately turn the heat down to maintain a gentle simmer so their skins remain intact and they cook up creamy, not mealy.
Always taste several beans to check for doneness. Some may be cooked through, while others may need more time. If any are undercooked, continue cooking until all are tender.