Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Chickpeas - garbanzo beans (Ρεβύθια, ρεβυθοκεφτέδες και χούμους)

Dear Meg,

Greetings from Crete, whose 300 days of sunshine have been overshadowed by the recent tragic events of the past weekend.

How are you feeling these days after the reconstruction surgery for your leg? Weren't you a lucky lass to have Colleen bring you a macrobiotic lasagne? I was reading about it while I had a 500g packet (in their dry state) of soaked chickpeas boiling away on the stove top, and I thought how much you would enjoy a Greek-inspired meal cooked using these chickpeas - I know how much you love them. That's when I thought of you sitting in my little Cretan kitchen, and I wondered what I would cook for you if you were to visit me. It's a little hard for me to cook for someone who has never cooked according to the modern culinary fashions that go by the names of gluten-free, macrobiotic, non-lactose and all those other food-related words that never seem to get mentioned in the Cretan diet, even though most of our meals are based on such principles, when eaten in combination with the fasting periods of the Greek Orthodox Church.

But I know why you eat macrobiotically, and I know I should make an effort to do so, too, if only I could get the whole family thinking along these lines meal-wise; after all, my mother suffered from breast cancer too, so I carry the weight of her medical history in my genes, which have also been passed on to my children, one of whom is a girl. I think my husband may take a bit more convincing: no meat, no eggs, no cheese or milk - it'll never work...

Anyway, as the chickpeas were boiling away, and I was watching your lovely friend holding that huge baking tin of lasagne, I thought I could at least give it a try today, chickpeas being so macrobiotic-friendly. And 500g of dry chickpeas really can go a long way; while my lovely Moldavian cleaning lady was here putting a bit of order to our house as she does every fortnight, I could focus more clearly on what I was throwing into the pot today...

I still had that newspaper supplement on beans lying on my desk. The 50-page booklet mentioned novel ways of cooking one of the most popular staples in the Cretan-Mediterranean cuisine, with recipes by Vaggelis Driskas, a big name in the world of modern Greek cuisine. It mentioned recipes for fasoles, gigantes, mavromatika, fava, lentils, and last but not least, the humble chickpea, which is most often eaten here in Crete as a soup in either a light tomato or lemon sauce (the latter being slightly thickened with some flour), with a little rice added to soften the taste of the chickpeas, which can be a bit heavy on the stomach.

revithada chickpea soup
(Chickpeas cooked in a light tomato sauce with rice, by my mother-in-law; the tomato could easily have been omitted, with lemon juice taking its place, thickened with a little flour .)

Chickpeas are also a little bit of a nuisance to cook (in the same way as yigantes), because they need overnight soaking before they can be cooked, unlike all the other beans in the Cretan culinary repertoire. So you really need to plan ahead if you want to use them. They should never be salted during cooking time, because they'll toughen and won't cook so easily; you should only salt them at the end of the cooking time.

I had a head of broccoli in the fridge, which I knew had to be cooked soon. How convenient that I found a recipe in the booklet for a chickpea and broccoli salad; how inconvenient that I knew my husband was expecting a soupy chickpea dish, like the one he has been raised on by his mother, and he would not entertain the idea of a bean salad for his lunch. I decided to improvise on Driskas' recipe, using the same ingredients, but changing the cooking technique.

After making this wonderful dish, I still had a whole lot of chickpeas left over. It wasn't hard to find some other creative Greek recipes to use them up. I made some vegan chickpeas patties, which we call revithokeftedes in Greek; these unfortunately do need frying, and I know that this isn't part of the macrobiotic or breast cancer avoidance diet, but at least I'm using olive oil produced only ten kilometres away from my home to fry these delicious rissoles.

Believe it or not, there were still some chickpeas left over, so I turned those into a hummus dip, which I know you'd love. And if you serve this trio with some toasted sourdough bread slices, black and green olives picked from your very own trees and some feta cheese drizzled with olive oil (although I know you don't do much dairy), this humble meal consisting primarily of chickpeas becomes a meal that not even royalty gets the opportunity to savour. Can you imagine it being served in Buckingham Palace? I don't think they can pronounce the word revithokeftedes! The whole preparation and cooking process made me feel whole again, an especially rewarding experience after a week of working in an office environment and driving around town like a yo-yo getting errands done.

The whole meal looked so healthy and wholesome that I set it out on the table, even though it wasn't lunch time yet. I pictured you sitting at the table with a look of wonder on your face as you tried to work out which of the dishes you would indulge in first. Just then, my husband walked through the door, looking a little cold, frazzled and tired. He saw everything laid out in front of his usual place at the table, and smiled.

chickpea garbanzo bean revithia

"Is that my lunch, honey?" he asked me.

"All set," I replied.

*** *** ***

To make the broccoli and chickpea soup, you need:
250g dry chickpeas, which have been soaked overnight and then boiled for an hour till tender
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 large potato, finely grated
a few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped (optional)
a pinch of dried thyme
125g broccoli florets, blanched 3-4 minutes
1 tablespoon of flour (or tahini, if you have access to it)
the juice of a lemon
salt and pepper
more olive oil

chickpea and broccoli stew revithada

Boil the soaked chickpeas for an hour, so that they become soft, then drain them and set aside. In a pot, heat up the oil and add the onion and potatoes. Let them soften a little, then add the broccoli and chickpeas, turning everything over to be coated in oil. Because we like our vegetables well-softened, I let them stew away in the pot with enough water to maintain the desired consistency of the soup (I needed about three cups of water). Towards the end of the cooking time, add the lemon juice, flour, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper, and a little more olive oil, depending on how oily you like your soup (and in Crete, we like our food very oily). This soup can be cooked in less time if you like your vegetables to by more crispy than tender.

To make the chickpea rissoles, you need:
150g dry chickpeas, which have been soaked overnight and then boiled for an hour till tender
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely grated
a few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1/2 cup of flour
a pinch of baking powder
salt and pepper
olive oil for frying

revithokeftedes chickpea patties

Mash the chickpeas to a pulp (a food processor or mini-mixer can do all the work for you here). Add all the other ingredients and mix well together; the mixture should feel damp, but at the same it must be able to form small patties that do not break up. Shape the mixture into rissoles - you may need to wash your hands after making a few and start the process all over again. Place the balls on a tray in the fridge to harden before frying. When ready to cook them, heat up the olive oil, dredge the patties in flour, place them carefully into the pan and let them cook till they are golden brown, then turn them over and let that side cook too. If you overcook them, they will turn out like crispy batter (not so healthy). Drain the cooked patties on kitchen paper.

To make the hummus, you need:
100g dry chickpeas, which have been soaked overnight and then boiled for an hour till tender
2 cloves of garlic, finely grated
2 tablespoons of tahini (if you have it available; otherwise, use more olive oil)
the juice of a lemon
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
a few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped


Mash the chickpeas to a pulp (a food processor or mini-mixer can do all the work for you here). Add all the other ingredients and mix well together. This dip is usually served smooth and creamy; if your mixture is too dry, add more oil and lemon juice to achieve this. You can also adjust the seasonings to make the dip more spicy, according to how you prefer it.

revithokeftedes chickpea patties

When serving this chickpea trio, don't forget the olives, feta cheese and sourdough bread. This meal will tantalise even the least vegetarian inclined in your family. Poor Buckingham Palace; they really have no idea what they're missing out on. And as Christmas draws nearer, my son can see even see it in his food; he layered the patties with some rice and yoghurt and turned them into a Christmas tree.

This is my entry for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, The hosted this week by Chriesi of Almond Corner.

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