Last New Year's Eve, my boyfriend and I had been dating for about two months. Not big fans of subway rides home in the wee hours alongside the inevitable puking revelers (though I guess that's better than facing drunk drivers on the roads), we decided to stay in.
I showed up at his apartment that night with two bottles of very cheap champagne (I love you, Andre) and a sparkly paper top-hat. I blew a noisemaker when he opened the door. I'd gotten the hat and noisemaker at the dollar store on my block about an hour before.
We didn't have any big plans – drink cheap champagne, pause whatever movie (okay, old episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation) to watch the ball drop – but we also didn't have any dinner plans at all.
He lived at the edge of a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in Brooklyn, with none of the trendy bistros and bars we associate with that hip little (big) borough. I was ready to cook for us, but it was already 9pm and the supermarket ten blocks away was already closed. And it's not like this bachelor apartment was so well-stocked with provisions.
There was a lot of this:
Me: I'll cook something. What do you want?
Him: I don't know.
Eventually we got to “chickpeas.” I never thought of myself as a big fan of chickpeas (unless they're mushed to death in hummus), but between that secret ingredient – hello, Iron Chef: Sunset Park – and my sense of what we might be able to round up from some nearby bodegas, a plan started to form.
I knew plenty of Harlem bodegas that stocked some fresh produce, and although things were a little more sparse, we managed quite well, and ended up with, if I do say so myself, one of the tastiest things I'd ever made.
I suppose this is one of the reasons I prefer cooking to baking, aside from wanting to surround myself with tasty vegetables rather than cookies. You can't improvise baking. Measurements and proportions are vital when you're trying to go from flour to cake. But cooking doesn't require a recipe. You can go with an idea and your knowledge of what works, and when you surprise yourself with the outcome it's not necessarily a bad thing. That sort of ingenuity and self-sufficiency is exciting and, dare I say it, empowering.
I'm not saying these chickpeas are why my boyfriend and I are still together, but they certainly haven't hurt.
(A note on nutrition here: This recipe is higher in fat than most “healthy” recipes you see around. But I would make a case for fat, as would a lot of scientific research. The low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets of the 80s and 90s did no one any favors. Fat is important for many aspects of health, from mood regulation and vitamin absorption to nice skin and feeling full after you eat. Fat is only a problem in that it is very calorie-dense, but that's more dangerous in processed foods with a higher fat content than you realize. For me, at least, a higher-fat diet really eases my junk and sugar cravings. There's some more good reading about fat here: Confessions of a Former Lipidphobe. Although this recipe gets about half of its calories from fat, it is relatively low in carbohydrates, and none of those are processed, and it's got a good dose of protein and fiber as well. The fats are good ones, and most importantly, this dish is delicious and keeps you full for hours.)
Spiced Chickpeas with Avocado
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 large red onion, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 avocado, diced
A couple handfuls of cilantro, chopped (about ¾ cup chopped)
Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
Black pepper, to taste
1) Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large sautee pan over medium heat. Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and cook slowly for 20-25 minutes, until onions are just about done to your liking. (You can go slowly and caramelize them, or turn up the heat and go faster for crispier onions, however you like.)
2) When the onions are just about done, stir in chickpeas. Add cumin, paprika, a few grinds of black pepper. (Add the spices gradually, and taste as you go.) Add 1-2 teaspoons more oil as needed – you don't want this dry – and more salt, to taste. Cook until chickpeas are soft and creamy, 10-15 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed.
3) Turn off heat and stir in avocado, cilantro, and lime juice.
4) Serve as-is, or over rice or in tortillas. Crumbled queso blanco makes a lovely addition.
Approximate calories, fat, fiber, protein, and cost per serving
313 calories, 33.6g fat, 9.6g fiber, 21.5g protein, $0.92
4 t olive oil: 168 calories, 18.7g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.16
1 large red onion: 96 calories, 0.2g fat, 4.1 g fiber, 2.6g protein, $0.30
1 can chickpeas: 428 calories, 4.1g fat, 15.8g fiber, 17.8g protein, $0.89
1 avocado: 227 calories, 21g fat, 9.2g fiber, 2.7g protein, $0.89
½ cup chopped cilantro: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.25
juice of one lime: 8 calories, 8g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.20
½ t salt: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
¾ t cumin: 7 calories 0.3g fat, 0.5g fiber, 0.3g protein, $0.02
½ t paprika: 3 calories, 0.1g fat, 0.4g fiber, 0.2g protein, $0.02
¼ t black pepper: 2 calories, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.01
TOTALS: 939 calories, 100.8g fat, 28.8g fiber, 64.6g protein, $2.75
PER SERVING (TOTALS/3): 313 calories, 33.6g fat, 9.6g fiber, 21.5g protein, $0.92