There has been a problem with the chickpeas at my restaurant recently in that occasionally they would simply never lose their mealy texture and resolutely refuse to cook tender. Old peas were thought to be the culprits, but new ones were bought and found wanting. More soaking and then less soaking were tried and still some batches remained tough. Consultations with other chefs produced reactions that varied from incredulity (how stupid can he be?) to amusement (how can he be serious?). Desperation almost drove me to using tinned chickpeas. The answer, when it came to me, was simple: a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in the soaking water and another one in the cooking water. Pulses always used to come with a pellet of soda in their packet.
Put the chickpeas and half the bicarbonate of soda to soak in lots of water overnight. Make sure that there is enough water to allow the pulses to expand threefold.
Drain the peas and rinse well. Place in a pan and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to a boil and skim thoroughly. Add the rest of the bicarbonate of soda, the bay leaves, the chilli and garlic. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer until the chickpeas are tender. It is hard to be precise about the cooking times, old chickpeas take much longer than the current year’s crop. Allow between 40 minutes and 1½ hours. Keep in their liquor until needed.
The chickpeas are destined for the Inzimino recipe. You will have some left, but they keep well in the fridge.
© 1999 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.