Everything You Can Do With a Can of Chickpeas

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[Photograph: Shutterstock]

After a good knife and a heavy skillet, the most heavy-duty workhorse in my kitchen isn't a piece of equipment at all; it's a can of chickpeas.

Yes, if I have the time I'll cook a big batch of dried chickpeas, with their far superior beany broth, and freeze them into single-serving portions. But when I'm pressed for time or not up to spending my night in the kitchen, nothing beats the convenience, hearty flavor, and remarkable nutrition of a can of chickpeas. There's no easier way to make my sad, stirred-around-in-the-pan vegetable piles feel like real food, and no better way to cook a whole army of dishes.

So let's investigate just how versatile the noble canned chickpea is.

Quick Stews

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

There's no reason the word "stew" has to mean "takes forever to cook." Here's a smoky, meaty mix of chicken, chickpeas, and chorizo that takes a mere 30 minutes in a pressure cooker, made with all of 11 ingredients, half of which you already have a home. During the high-pressure cook, the chickpeas soften to soak up some of the stewing liquid but retain enough of their dignity to leave a satisfying chew.

No pressure cooker? No problem; this bright, gingery Spanish stew of chickpeas, tomatoes, and spinach takes an hour start to finish but tastes like it took four times that.

Effortless Curry

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The only thing stopping you from turning that stew into curry is a few spices always worth keeping on hand. Pick up some coriander, turmeric, and cumin and you're ready to make this chicken and chickpea number that's way fresher and lighter than your local Indian restaurant's.

Meatless Indian chickpea curries abound, and few make me happier than chole, a smokier, more robust alternative to the wan channa masala in the frozen foods aisle. Then there's this chicken and chickpea curry bulked up with coconut for a soothing nutty sweetness on a rainy day.

One-Skillet Meals

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[Photograph: Yasmin Fahr]

I'd say 80% of the food I make at home falls into the category of "pile of vegetables in a pan," which, depending on the final consistency, falls into the pile food or sauce food categories of good, lazy cooking. Emphasis on the good, because there's nothing wrong with frying eggplants in a good amount of oil, turning that oil bright red with harissa, stirring in tomatoes and chickpeas for substance, and topping the whole thing with yogurt. If you notice a tomato-chickpea connection so far, good catch. Here's another one-pan variation on the theme with chicken and kale.

For vegetarian meals, nothing adds meaty heft better than chickpeas, as is the case in this asparagus and corn sauté. Or go a more chickpea-heavy route with a harissa-spiced chickpea sauté with eggs.

Get Them Crispy

[Photograph: Morgan Eisenberg]

If you've never roasted chickpeas, now's the time. Coat them in oil, toss 'em in the oven, and let them turn brown and shatter-crisp all over with creamy, oily innards. They're the perfect snack on their own with drinks, great for easy cocktail party prep, or you can toss them over salad and make an epic platter of Indian-themed nachos that we like to call naanchos.

Main-Course-Worthy Salads

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Or don't cook your chickpeas at all. Drain them, rinse them, and toss them in salads that won't just keep over time, but actually benefit from making ahead. Then toss the chickpeas with carrots and pumpkin seeds, cumin and celery, or bacon, cotija cheese, and roasted chilies. This is what office lunch should be.

Pasta and Meatballs

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

If pasta with chickpea sauce sounds carby to you, well, you'd be right, but when made into a light, fragrant sauce with olive oil, chilies, pepper, and parsley, they're a surprisingly delicious way to turn plain pantry items into dinner. Feeling more ambitious? Make meatballs. Actually they're gondi, mashed chickpeas formed into spheres with ground chicken, then floated in chicken soup. It's a Persian home-cooking specialty with the subtle spice of turmeric and cardamom.

Or Make Cutlets

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Making falafel's not hard, per se, but it's not the easiest thing in the world. These chickpea cakes are a snap, though: a falafel-esque mix of bulgur and chickpeas mixed with fresh herbs, coated in bread crumbs, and pan-fried. Suddenly your chickpeas are now cutlets, primed and ready to be used like any meaty cutlet. So how about on burger buns with slaw?

And Duh

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[Photograph: Josh Bousel]

And when all else fails, there's hummus. Though our recipe calls for dried, there's no reason you can't use canned in their place for a version that's almost as good. Just remember to remove their skins for the silkiest, softest spread.