Tuesday, April 01, 2008
LINDA FAUS and DANIELLE CENTONI The Oregonian Staff
It's not often we're startled by a trip down the produce aisle, but every once in awhile it happens, usually at an upscale market where produce managers like to trot out exotic specialties for adventurous cooks.
But our latest shocker came during a trip to WinCo, of all places. While visiting that bargain supermarket we found a rather odd-looking specimen in the produce section: plump little green pods that looked like miniature edamame. But the sign said "garbanzo beans." What?!
We had forgotten that those little beige beans in the can, or their dried brethren in the bulk bins, weren't just born that way. Maybe that's because until that day we had never -- ever -- seen them fresh. Not even in a cookbook.
We picked up a bag and brought them back to FOODday. "Where did they come from?" we all wondered. "What do they taste like?"
To find out, we took them to the test kitchen to experiment. First we opened the thin, papery pods. Some had one pale green bean, others had two, and they looked liked big, gnarled peas. We popped a few in our mouths and found they tasted a bit like peas, too, with a pleasant crunch.
We Googled around a bit on the Web and found that fresh garbanzos are common in the Middle East, India and Mexico, where they're often snacked on out of hand, or grilled, roasted, blanched, sauteed and simmered. In short, you can eat them any way you like.
We gave them a quick dip in boiling water to soften them up a bit before sauteing with bacon and onions (we used the recipe for Lima Beans With Bacon on this page). They were delicious and retained much of their firm texture instead of becoming as soft and starchy as canned garbanzos or cooked dried beans.
Like most beans, fresh garbanzos are high in protein, calcium, iron, fiber and folate. You can use them anywhere you would use other fresh, dried or canned beans. Add them to soups, stews and braises. Steam them until tender, then puree into a green-hued hummus. They would make a delicious bean salad with a tart vinaigrette, or they could be tossed into a bowl of leafy greens. You can even coat them in spices and roast in the oven on a baking sheet or in a foil packet on the grill. Eat the roasted beans as a snack with an icy beer or toss them into a side dish, like potato salad.
Honestly, the sky's the limit when it comes to cooking these little guys. And that's why we were happy to find out WinCo plans to continue carrying them for as long as they're available. We called the company's produce manager, who said that the supply comes from either California or Mexico and that they've been selling well in all the stores.
Peak season for the crop from Mexico is February through June. After that, they're likely to come from California. In late summer, you can find a limited supply of locally grown fresh garbanzos at some of our local farmers markets.
Keep in mind that with just one or two beans per pod, shelling them is a labor of love best done while you're watching TV, chatting with friends or otherwise mentally occupied. Or employ the help of little kiddos, who would delight in popping out the beans.
At least shelling garbanzos is easier than shelling fava beans, which will be appearing in stores and farmers markets soon. Favas are essentially shelled twice: first they're released from their furry pods, then blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water to loosen the skins. Use a paring knife to make a small slit in the skin, then squeeze out the bean.