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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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April 30, 2009 10:50 AM

Garbanzo beans, chickpeas, ceci: get 'em while they're fresh!

Posted by Nancy Leson

You many have already heard about my penchant for buying "exotic" fruits and vegetables -- something I do regularly when shopping at Asian markets. I view the exercise as a fun science experiment, figuring, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but it's always an education. Well, last night I stopped into my local PCC, and right inside the front door was a sign promoting fresh garbanzo beans:


I've eaten a lot of dried and canned garbanzos in my day (and so have you if you're a fan of hummus, Pagliacci's signature salad, or that quick shrimp recipe I keep yakking about), but I've never eaten nor seen the fresh beans in a store before. At PCC, they were selling for $3.99 a pound. So I took one, peeled the pod -- to find a wrinkled round that looked like a fresh version of those Trader Joe's wasabi peas I love so well -- and ate a raw bean. Wow. "What is that?" asked a woman who watched me in action. "Fresh garbanzos!" I said, scooping half a pound into a bag (they're lightweight, making them a rare as well as inexpensive treat).

The taste and texture was nothing like the canned or reconstituted dried version that, frankly, I've never been crazy for. Instead, these are reminiscent of English peas, fava beans or edamame (soy beans), though they came one-to-a-pod, with the yellower, drier pods offering up larger beans. Those fuzzy pods are a tad papery, almost like tomatillo skins, and I imagine they get even more so as they dry on the vine:


The garbanzos were fun to peel, making them a good job for a kid, or an easy chore while you're drinking a glass of wine while singing spring tunes -- unlike the lovely favas available right now, which are an enormous pain to unearth from their hardy shells -- though always worth it in the end.

PCC Edmonds produce-coordinator Matt LeBow (who got the idea to buy the beans after seeing them in ethnic markets -- see! what did I say?), told me he likes to use them in an Indian-style lamb stew, and I found some recipe ideas on this veg-centric blog. "As far as I know, this is the first time we've carried them," he said when I called this morning. He's been selling garbanzos (also known as chickpeas, or, ceci) for a couple weeks and hopes to continue stocking them as long as they're available.

I also talked to Scott Block, a produce buyer at Rosella's Fruit & Produce where PCC purchases the fresh beans. Which, dare I mention it, are grown in Mexico. Though when the season ends, shortly, the California farmers start growing them, Block says. The only real "down time" -- availability-wise -- is October-November. They're far more widely available than ever before, says Block, thanks to a growing interest from the Mexican and Asian communities and the markets that serve them. Duane's Garden Patch, a farm stand in Burien, sells a ton, he noted.

Meanwhile, I think I'm going to head back to PCC for more beans -- they're that good. I might use some as garnish for the ravioli I'm planning to eat for lunch, though I've saved some out for drying and I hope to plant them in my garden. Anybody have any other recipe ideas?

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