If you want to hold history in your hand, pick up a handful of garbanzo beans. Also called chickpeas (for their resemblance to the beaks of baby chicks), these legumes have been cultivated for at least 7,500 years, beginning in the Middle East and then Greece, the Mediterranean, Greater Asia and the New World. At one point, garbanzo beans were so popular that they were commonly ground up and used as ersatz coffee. Today, India produces the lion's share of the world's chickpea supply—almost 90 percent of it. However, in the U.S., most garbanzo beans you can buy at the market are grown in Idaho, Montana and Washington.
Garbanzo beans are technically the Kabuli variety of the chickpea, which also comes in a smaller, more pointed form, called the Desi. Kabuli garbanzo beans tend to be larger than the Desis, with tan or pale yellow flesh surrounded by a thin, cream-colored coat.
When are Garbanzo Beans in Season?
Though they're a cool-season crop, garbanzo beans are almost always sold either dried or canned, making them available at any time of year.
How to Choose Garbanzo Beans
When picking a bag of dried chickpeas, look for beans that are unbroken and a bag that hasn't been punctured and shows no signs of moisture. If you'd rather buy your beans in bulk, make sure that the bin of garbanzos is securely covered and that the supermarket has a pretty good turnover rate of its dried goods. To choose canned garbanzos, check the expiration date and avoid dented or rusted cans. If you're worried that a tin of chickpeas is lined with the controversial plastics ingredient BPA, contact the manufacturer before consuming.
How to Store Garbanzo Beans
Dried garbanzo beans should be kept in a cool, dry place, like a drawer of pantry. Store loose beans in an airtight jar.
How to Cook Garbanzo Beans
Canned garbanzo beans are ready to eat, while dried ones take quite a bit of prep. The most important step in cooking dried garbanzo beans is the first one: soaking. Add your beans to a saucepan, and then pour in two to three cups of water for each cup of beans. Now let them soak for four full hours. This will soften them, reducing cooking time and lowering their levels of gas-causing oligosaccharides. If you don't want to endure the wait, just soak them overnight. Then, before you boil them, pour off the soaking water and rinse away any loose skins.
Most garbanzo bean recipes call for them in either cups (dried, 6 oz) or cans (ready to eat, 15 oz).
In place of regular yellow garbanzo beans, you can try brown or black chickpeas, which have a similar flavor. Lima beans or Great Northern beans will also work.
Garbanzo Beans in Recipes
For a light and colorful side dish, toss together garbanzo beans, red peppers and cucumbers in this Mediterranean Chickpea Salad.
Or if you want a little Middle Eastern flair, make Tabbouleh with Garbanzo Beans using chickpeas, veggies and bulgur wheat.
And of course, who can resist Red Pepper Hummus? ...Seriously, who?