Ingredient of the Week: Chickpeas

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What is it?

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are part of the legume family. They are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in existence and are mostly used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.

Chickpeas are high in protein. When consumed, they satisfy the appetite much more efficiently -- you'll feel full after just a handful of chickpeas and thus eat less overall, making them a wonder food for swimsuit season. Chickpeas are also a good source of fiber -- two cups provide the recommended daily value -- but the benefits go beyond those of other fibrous foods. Research shows that consumption of chickpeas contributes to better blood fat regulation and lower levels of LDL-cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

How do I use it?

If the chickpeas are mature, you can eat them cold in salads. If you prefer them cooked, add them to soups or stews. If you're more adventurous or advanced, try grounding them, shaping them into balls, and frying them, and voila! You've got falafel. I decided to throw them in the food processor along with other ingredients to make hummus.

Any way you cook them, you'll have to do a few things to prepare them first. Soak them in water for several hours or overnight. (Some say, however, that although this expedites the cooking process it is not absolutely necessary.) After soaking, discard the water and add more, then bring them to a boil on the stove. Chickpeas will approximately double in size after soaking and cooking, so make sure you allow for enough water and space in the bowl and pot. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, and leave them alone for at least an hour. When they're soft to the bite, they're ready to be added to your dish. Don't forget them on the stove; overcook them, and they'll turn mushy.

Where can I find it?

In the dried beans aisle of most grocery stores. I got mine from H-E-B.

Recipe: Spicy Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Hummus Courtesy of All Recipes. Eat as a dip with pita bread, pita chips, or raw vegetables. Warning: There's a spicy kick to the hummus; add less cayenne pepper if you prefer something milder.

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