I spend hours researching healthy cooking topics, occasionally putting down my Cool Ranch Doritos to note a really good idea. The truth is, I can prepare yummy, wholesome meals until the free-range, grass-fed cows come home. But finding a crunchy snack that satisfies my savory cravings has been a real stumper. (Don’t suggest baby carrots. They make me grumpy, and a little orange.) Since I need an appetizer for a Kentucky Derby party next weekend, it’s time to create a munchie that is more elegant, and yes, healthier, than my usual frat-house fare.
Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, are a pantry staple of mine, used to make everything from hummus to vegetarian Bolognese. So I was intrigued to read that roasting them whole makes these nutty-tasting legumes simultaneously crisp and tender. They cool to an addictively chewy texture, which means you can serve them either fresh from the oven or at room temperature. And given their whopping amount of plant-based protein, roasted chickpeas check the healthy box. Note: If you are concerned about sodium, you may be displeased with the amount in a can of chickpeas. Instead, swoop up a bag of dried chickpeas (which are also cheaper than their canned cousins), and soak/simmer them according to the package directions.
Roasting chickpeas requires only beans, oil and your favorite salt. I’m currently in love with mild fleur de sel, and also get a kick out of smoky chile salt. If salt isn’t something you play favorites with, kosher or plain table salt works just fine, too.
Start by rinsing the starch off the chickpeas and placing them on paper towels in a rimmed baking sheet (the better to corral the ornery ones). Layer additional paper towels on top of the chickpeas and gently roll the beans around until they dry, which is a remarkably soothing activity. My Dear Husband Bob did look a little confused when I told him I was massaging my chickpeas, but that’s how I keep the mystery alive. You can also let your chickpeas air-dry, although that doesn’t do as much for your relationship. Some of the chickpea skins will fall off during the rolling/drying process. Leave them in the mix; they’ll crisp up delightfully while roasting.
Toss the dry chickpeas in oil and salt and bake them in a single layer for about 30 minutes until the chickpeas become golden, like corn nuts. Give the pan a little shake every now and then so they don’t scorch, also like corn nuts. Simply seasoned with salt, chickpeas are as elegant as ladies in hats and so tasty that I eat them by the handful when no one is looking.
You can stop here, or you can have more fun than you ever expected to have with beans by experimenting with toppings. A dash of chile pepper and a teaspoon of smoked paprika bring on the heat. A teaspoon of ras el hanout is all you need to give the chickpeas a Moroccan twist. Grated Parmesan, or nutritional yeast for my vegan friends, plus a little dried parsley gives you cheesy goodness with no orange finger dust. Shakes of dried garlic and dill were too subtle to offer the ranch flavor I crave, but you know what worked? A tablespoon of powdered ranch dressing mix. (Too tacky for you? Go in a different direction and forget I mentioned it.) The only rule for jazzing up your roasted chickpeas is to add the spices after baking, because prolonged high heat may make them bitter. Also, jarred spices lose their pungency over time. If you can’t remember when you bought your onion powder, consider replacing it.
You can coat your chickpeas with sauces, too. Just pop them back in the oven for 3-5 minutes to bake the flavor in. A quarter cup of teriyaki sauce immerses the chickpeas in flavor and gives them a lovely mahogany color. If sweet is your preferred treat, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and a shake of cinnamon transform them into dessert-worthy poppers. You can even brush chickpeas with barbecue sauce, but they will be a little sticky, even after a second bake. Instead of a finger food, use BBQ chickpeas as a crouton substitute on a grilled chicken-topped salad.
If you can’t pick just one flavor, consider making several batches and serving them in festive mint julep cups for your own Derby party. Or keep them on hand in the refrigerator as a no-guilt snack that’s full of salty, spicy, chewy goodness. And leave the baby carrots for the rabbits.