The Humble Chickpea

A couple of nights ago I served up a dish that I hadn't cooked before; chickpeas and chorizo. It was a cross between a soup and a stew with a tomato base, and I came across it in "Rick Stein's Spain". We both really enjoyed it, and it had an authentic Spanish flavour. But it also set me thinking.
Before I came to Spain chickpeas were what you make hummus with, and that was about it. Since encountering Spanish and North African cuisine, I have discovered just how useful and versatile this pulse can be in terms of what it can be combined with, and how it can be used. At a very simple level, once you have soaked some dried chickpeas you can sprout them to provide a wonderfully crunchy texture and nutty flavour to go into salads. Or they can be cooked with some chicken stock, then put through the blender to create a thick, smooth, warming soup, and by holding some back from the blender to be added back, you have á distinctly different soup. A classic Galician soupy stew combines chickpeas with tripe, which I'm sure is a great combination, but not for me, as I loathe tripe with a passion. 
They go well in fact with other meats like pork, chicken and beef, but also with meaty fish like monkfish, hake and swordfish. Interesting texture combinations include chickpeas with pasta, with rice, with spinach, with green beans.
Chickpeas are the pulse which is finely milled to make gram flour, commonly used in Indian cooking, so I have made pakoras from cauliflower or broccoli florets, and a restaurant we often visit which is owned by an inventive Scottish chef, offers as a starter haggis pakora - though not on Burn's Night. Gram flour is also used to make a heavy batter into which finely chopped raw prawn is stirred. Take a frying pan with about half a centimetre of oil and in no time at all you have a stack of delicious prawn fritters, or tortillitas de camarones; look out for them on tapas menus when you are here in Andalucía.
And of course, there's good old hummus to dip your pita into and relish. Except that too shows unexpected opportunities for invention and experimentation. Leap from the Middle East to Mexico and it makes a great alternative to refried beans in your wraps. Or use it in generous quantities as the carbohydrate of the dish, and then top it with caramelised onions, spicy diced pork or chicken, or chilli prawns. There really seems to be no end to the possibilities.


A Clutch Of Festivities

We spent Christmas in England for the first time in about four years ago. Much as we enjoy what Christmas has to offer here in the village, it was a delight to be with the family for a change. By great good fortune, we found a self-catering apartment a mere three or four minutes’ walk from our daughter’s house, allowing us to have the best of both worlds; to be with the children as they unwrapped their mountain of presents, but able to retreat to our own quiet space whenever the impatience of age began to kick in. We arrived back here on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year and so were able then to look forward to joining friends for a New Year’s Eve meal at one of our favourite restaurants. Sadly, the years are really starting to have their impact and so we didn’t head off up to the church square to see in the actual New Year, although we heard the fireworks at midnight. Of course, in Spain enough is never enough and so now we await the arrival of the Three Kings on Monday evening and the opening of the gifts by the children the following morning. On Monday there will be bouncy castles with cartoon characters in attendance and on Tuesday there will be ice skating in the main square, La Plaza De Las Tres Culturas for both children and adults, experienced skaters and novices, with marshals available to gather up the casualties. After that there is absolutely nothing to celebrate until 20th January, the feast of San Sebastián, one of the village patrons. By then we are well into 2015. It will be interesting to see what it brings.