Chickpeas are a nutrient-rich legume with a pleasantly nutty, buttery taste. They are a staple ingredient in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines and are the basis for popular foods such as hummus, falafels and chana dal. They are a highly versatile ingredient, and can be eaten as a vegetable, blended to make a thick paste, or dried and ground into flour.
These useful little vegetables are also a great source of plant-based protein, and thanks to their versatility, and a mild but pleasant flavour that pairs easily with other ingredients, they are extremely popular in vegan and vegetarian recipes. This includes traditional recipes that also happen to be meat-free, such as chickpea curries, hummus and falafels, as well as adaptations of other recipes where the meat is replaced with chickpeas, with chickpea burgers being a particularly well-loved example.
Chickpeas are usually available in one of three forms: dried, canned, or ground into chickpea flour, which is also known as gram flour.
Dried chickpeas are often available in bulk from health food stores, and will keep for up to a year. They will need soaking before you cook them, as this speeds up cooking time and makes them easier to digest. Rinse them well and place in a large, covered pan of cold water overnight (8-12 hours)
Canned chickpeas have an even longer shelf-life, and they’re canned pre-cooked, so if you want to use them cold, in salads, or to make hummus, all you need to do is rinse them. For vegans, canned chickpeas provide two ingredients for the price of one, because the water in which the chickpeas are stored absorbs some of their protein, creating a liquid called aquafaba, which can be used as an egg substitute in baking, or for making meringues.
Chickpea flour has an earthy, nutty flavour, and is also gluten free. It can be used like regular flour, in baking, or to thicken soups and sauces.
There are several varieties of chickpea, some of which are quite rare. These include the Murgia Carsica black chickpea, a heritage variety from Puglia in Italy, which is slowly being reintroduced to the area by the Slow Food Presidium of Puglia.
The chickpeas you can find in your local store, however, are likely to be one of two varieties.
Desi chickpeas are the most popular variety of chickpea, accounting for around 75% of production worldwide. They have a relatively thick seed coat, and are generally dark in colour with a yellow centre, although they can be various colours, from tan, through dark brown to black. If picked while still immature, they have a green colour and a sweet taste, like garden peas. They can also be hulled and split to make chana dal.
Kabuli chickpeas are larger and lighter in colour, with a thinner, smoother skin and a creamier flavour. Although still less popular than the desi, they are gradually becoming more common in American stores.
All of the chickpea recipes in this section are suitable for vegans, although, of course, you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy them.
Chickpeas with pumpkin and coriander: this elegant vegetable dish is simple to make, with little hands-on prep time. It has a mellow, fragrant flavour and feels comfortingly autumnal.
Green cabbage and chickpea curry: this vegan curry is made with tender cabbage leaves and deliciously nutty chickpeas in a creamy, aromatic coconut milk sauce flavoured with chilis, ginger and spices
Chilli sin carne: a vegan take on the classic Mexican family favourite, this dish is spicy, hearty, and packed with vibrant flavours - everything a good chilli should be. If you’re new to vegan cooking, or cooking for friends, make sure when buying your ingredients that the mince is vegan, rather than simply vegetarian.
Vegan chickpea meatloaf: another classic family dish is given a vegan makeover with this lightly spiced ‘meat’ loaf recipe. Serve with mashed potatoes (made with olive oil or vegan butter) and fresh green vegetables.
Chickpea curry: this nutritious and fragrant chickpea curry is flavoured with garam masala, cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger and garlic for a flavourful and satisfying winter dish.
Vegan chickpea and millet burger: this gourmet vegan burger is made from chickpeas, sweet potatoes and millet, and served with a mango and chilli sauce and vegan mayonnaise. Again, if you’re new to vegan cooking, check those burger buns to make sure they’re vegan.
Vegan chickpea soup: the perfect winter warmer, this healthy and delicious soup is full of hearty, chunky vegetables, and seasoned to perfection with salt, pepper and a scattering of dill.
These chickpea recipes are meat-free and suitable for vegetarians, and while they do contain dairy, many of them can be made vegan with some easy substitutions.
Roasted chickpeas: this healthy and delicious snack can be made sweet or savoury, and is a great alternative to chips and candy. The ‘salty 'n’ simple’ version is suitable for both vegetarians and vegans, but the ‘sweet 'n’ spicy’ contains honey, so is vegetarian only. Try switching the honey for maple syrup for a vegan-friendly alternative.
Chickpea purée with crackers and herby cream cheese: these super-simple vegetarian dips are great as an appetiser or as finger-food for a buffet. You can serve them with zucchini and crackers, as in the recipe, or with a variety of other crudités.
Grilled chickpea burger: a healthy vegetarian option for your next cookout, this crispy grilled burger is made with chickpeas, hazelnuts, red peppers and carrots. The mixture is held together with egg, but you could experiment with using some of the aquafaba from your tinned chickpeas to make it vegan-friendly too.