Hello, garbanzo, is that you?

Fresh and green, they're chickpeas, all right. And what a delight to finally meet them!

 

By Barbara Hansen, Times Staff Writer Los Angeles Times - Food Section July 13, 2005

 

The pods are pale green and downy, and the bright beans within are tender and crisp. You can eat them straight out of the shell, or toss them into any number of dishes.

 

No, they're not edamame. Nor are they favas.

 

They're fresh garbanzos — and surprise always gives way to delicious delight with these beans.

 

Put out a bowl of them, pan-roasted or steamed, and they'll disappear in a flash as everyone grabs one after another. Their flavor is distinctive and vibrant, reminiscent of a just-picked pea. Where have they been all our lives?

 

Until recently, fresh garbanzos have shown up in very limited supply at farmers markets. Now you can find them in several supermarkets in greater abundance.

 

And it's about time. They're terrific with just a touch of salt. They're great in soups, vegetable sautés and salads.

 

In short, they're up for just about anything. Chefs around town know this, and they're having fun with them.

 

Robert Gadsby of Noé in downtown L.A. adds fresh garbanzos to soup, risotto and even a tuna sashimi plate. At Water Grill, David LeFevre's summer plans include making a fresh garbanzo bean cake garnished with garbanzo sprouts, and combining fresh garbanzos, pomegranate seeds and grilled octopus or stuffed calamari. And Suzanne Goin of AOC has grilled salmon topped with a salad of fresh garbanzos, purslane, green onions and lemon.

Chris Kidder, executive chef of Literati II in Brentwood, adds the beans to fritto misto (fried mixed vegetables) and makes a salad of fresh garbanzos, tomato, fennel and black olive bread.

 

"We wanted to have a summery, light dish incorporating things that were just coming into season, like the garbanzos and tomatoes, with other ingredients we had on hand, like the olive bread," says Kidder. It's a serendipitous dish.

 

Fresh garbanzos are also hassle-free, especially if you buy them already shelled. Unlike dried beans, they don't require hours of soaking and boiling.

 

You can find fresh shelled garbanzos, which are also called chickpeas, at Whole Foods stores while they're in season in California, through October. After that, the harvest moves to central Mexico until spring, when the California season begins again, says Morgan Murray, general manager of grower Califresh, based in Sanger.

 

At farmers markets and Latino markets such as Cardenas and Numero Uno, you'll often find beans still in the shell. They're also available that way at Food 4 Less stores.

 

If you need to cook a big batch of shucked beans but can get them only in the pods, be sure to give yourself enough time to shell the lot. It's easy work but just takes a little time.

"There is something fun about working with the fresh form of an ingredient that we use so often dried," Goin says, "and they seem very old-school Southern California to me…. I remember driving by fields and fields of them in the summer when I was a kid."

 

Cooking with fresh garbanzos is just starting to become widespread here, but they have a long history in Mexico and India. Nalin Patel, owner of Maurya Indian restaurant in Beverly Hills, says they're popular in his native Gujarat, where one might eat them roasted in the shell over a wood fire or combined with onion, chile, cilantro, lime juice and salt as an appetizer with drinks.

 

When Maurya's executive chef, Jayanta Paul, cooks at home, he likes to make fresh garbanzos with mushrooms in a Punjabi-style tomato sauce. It's hearty enough to serve as a main dish, says Paul, who is from Calcutta. Indian bread or rice is a good accompaniment.

For a summer dish, I added fresh garbanzos to Mexican calabacitas, a combination of squash, corn, tomatoes and green chiles. The garbanzos make this colorful dish even more appealing.

 

Fresh garbanzos are so down-to-earth practical and delicious, it's a wonder we've gone without them for so long.