My New Secret Weapon: Desi Chana
The other day, I went to the grocery store to look for chana dal — desi chickpeas in their split state.
Sadly, I was unable to find any. I did find the split version of the better-known Kabuli chickpea (more commonly called ‘Garbanzo beans’ in the United States) — but in the smaller, darker, and lower-GI desi, or kala chana, specification, I found only whole chickpeas. They were small and green. I was planning to make hummus from them, and wasn’t sure about the green color: which is to say, I wouldn’t mind, but Denis might.
Not to be deterred, I stood in the aisle at ValuMarket for some time, thinking it over. I like Kabuli chickpeas, but their glycemic index is higher than that of their country cousins, the Desi peas.
Finally, I decided that if Denis couldn’t eat green hummus, he’d just have to starve … or something like that (I wasn’t planning on feeding him nothing but hummus all week anyway). I seized upon a bag of the desi chickpeas and headed to the checkout (okay, I might’ve picked up a couple other things as well).
Boy, am I ever glad I did.
The same day, I put a cup of the desi chickpeas in to soak, so I could make hummus the day after. In the morning, I discovered that upon soaking they darkened from their dry olive green to nearly black! That gave me the germ of an idea.
I made my hummus. Even without tahini (and with lime juice in place of half the lemon juice, because I thought we had more lemon juice than we did), it proved itself quite flavorful indeed — and also great for breakfast. I enjoyed my hummus … but deep in the folds of my brain, the germ of an idea from the other night was sprouting.
You see, I planned on serving tacos for dinner one night last week — and everyone (okay, well, everyone in my house!) knows that tacos are greatly improved by the inclusion of black beans. …And my desi chickpeas were sort of beans, and sort of black.
…So what would happen, I wondered, if I used them in tacos?
Deliciousness, that’s what.
On Wednesday evening, I whipped up a batch of tacos, complete with desi chickpeas boiled in taco seasoning. I had been concerned that if Denis realized they weren’t really black beans, he might dislike them on sight — but in fact it turned out that he liked them enough to mention them specifically.
It turned out that I liked them enough to feature them as the star ingredient in my lunch on Thursday and again today (taco-seasoned Desi chickpeas with corn cakes, sour cream, and salsa). In fact, I liked them so much that, now that I’m out of them, I think I’m going to whip up another batch.
David Mendosa maintains an excellent resource site for folks with diabetes and others who pay close attention to glycemic indices, and he writes of chana dal — the split version of desi chickpeas, remember — that it’s very similar to Garbanzo beans, but “younger, smaller, split, sweeter, and has a much lower glycemic index.” He notes that you can substitute it just about anywhere you’d use garbanzos.
The Desi chickpea and the familiar Garbanzo, it turns out, are simply different cultivars one species — but the glycemic index of the desi strain is much lower. Just as Delicious and Granny Smith apples are cultivars of the same species with some very different characteristics, desi chickpeas and Garbanzos are “one, but they’re not the same” (with apologies to U2).
Mr. Mendosa provides a rather comprehensive list of recipes using chana dal. I imagine that un-split desi chickpeas will work just fine in most of them, given a little extra time to prepare (like split and unsplit dry lentils or peas, split desi chickpeas — that is, chana dal — will cook faster than unsplit).
It turns out there’s also a flour made by grinding desi chickpeas, and I’m intrigued by the possibilities there.
Desi chickpeas seem to offer an excellent glycemic index-to-performance ratio. In other words, they’re great bike fuel: filling, slow-burning, and tasty (you can even make them into crackers to bring with you for on-bike snacking, if you’re feeling ambitious).
Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture of the desi chickpeas I made the other night, so you’ll just have to make do with this shot of the dried chickpeas in their bag: