During the 2017 protests against Trump’s travel ban one placard made me smile: 'We gave you hummus,’ it read. 'Have some respect’.
This chickpea puree has indeed been a gift. I didn’t eat it (or chickpeas in any form) until I came to live in London in the mid-eighties. Now I’m not sure what we snacked on (or gave to fussy children) before we discovered hummus.
The taste of chickpeas pureed with garlic, olive oil and tahini is as familiar to us as it is to an Egyptian. The popularity of hummus may have held the chickpea back, though.
In my head chickpeas, combined with cumin and sumac, or tossed into salads with pomegranate seeds and heady dressings, were firmly placed in the Middle East. But Arabs took this sturdy little pulse – that looks so like a hazelnut – across the Mediterranean, to Algeria and Morocco, Spain and Portugal.
Eventually I ate chickpeas in Spain, in gutsy stews of sausages and smoked paprika (am I the only person who detects the flavour of pork in chickpeas? I think that’s why they go well with sausages), then in Nice, where I fell for socca, the salty chickpea flour pancake you buy from food trucks there.
Finally, I ate them in Italy in a combination that surprised me (starch and starch – why would anyone eat pasta with chickpeas?) But when I tasted the chickpeas - fried in abundant olive oil with garlic, some tomato puree and a little dried chilli then tossed with soft tagliatelle - I completely got the point (it’s as much about texture as flavour).
I’m in love with what I think of as a kind of Italian hummus: cooked chickpeas mixed with a little stock, garlic, tiny dried chillis, roast garlic, soft chunks of ham or bacon and copious amounts of extra virgin olive oil. This is pureed and served warm, sometimes with crostini, sometimes as a kind of mash for spicy lamb or pork, or with braised chicory or radicchio on top (bitter leaves render an olive oil-rich chickpea puree even more luscious).
Chickpeas are so robust that only serious overcooking will make them fall apart so you don’t have to keep an eye on them when you add them to curries or stews. And tinned is fine by me. I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between those you’ve watched gently simmering on the hob for hours and those you procured with a can opener.
I always have lots of tins of chickpeas in my larder, so many, in fact, that you’d think I was about to start my own little hummus factory. But I know I can do much more with them than that.