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Feeling Chili?
Right Food for the Season - Late Winter
Written by Jane Ward   
Several weeks ago I was presented with a gift of vacuum-packed dried garbanzo beans, one full kilo, direct from Barcelona, Spain.  Garbanzos – or chickpeas or cici, as we Italians prefer to call them – may seem like a weird gift to some readers, but a gift of food thrills me like no other.  What can I say?  I have simple tastes, a gift-giver’s dream.  I’m not a diamonds and gold girl; I’m a food girl.  A gift of beans (or a jar of jam or a wedge of another country’s cheese) says loud and clear, “I know what you like” and that’s a nice feeling, being considered in the gifting process, being known.
If you know garbanzos – and I’ll call these beans “garbanzos” for as long as I’m discussing the Spanish pedigreed beans – only from a trip down a salad bar line, then you need to be better acquainted.  No question, you open a can of Goya garbanzos, drain and rinse them, toss a few on your lettuce, and Presto! You’ve just bumped up the nutrition quotient of your salad.  Legumes are really, really good for the human body, packed with complex fiber and protein and satisfyingly filling to boot.  Not to mention cheap.
But let’s take a moment to imagine a world in which our Barcelona garbanzos might be used just as healthfully but also a little more creatively.
For a good part of the world does, in fact, use the chickpea very creatively indeed.  And here I’m going to exchange names, garbanzo for chickpea, dropping into the more widely held name for this legume.  Grown primarily throughout the Mediterranean, western Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, popular chickpea dishes include Middle Eastern hummus, India’s vegetarian curries, and the Sicilian chickpea fritters called panelle.
Versatile?  Interesting?  Creative?  I think so.
But what to do with these cici, these chickpeas, my garbanzos from Spain?  For weeks I looked at the box every time I opened my food cupboard, hoping with each new look to be granted some inspiration.  And then, finally, on a cold Monday, I got the lightning bolt:  I would substitute the garbanzos for my usual kidney bean/black bean mix in a big pot of chicken chili.
I love chili on a cold night, and I love using the more nutty and toothsome dried beans instead of canned in chili.  It requires a bit of extra planning but nothing too strenuous.  Dried beans need to be soaked eight hours or overnight in a big pot of cold water, meaning that if one wants to eat chili on a Tuesday, the garbanzos must soak over Monday night.
The cooking is uncomplicated too.  Begin by rinsing two cups of the beans in cold running water, then place the drained beans in a large bowl.  Next, cover the beans with a lot of cold water and set the bowl aside on the counter to sit overnight.  The next day, dump the contents of bowl into a large pot, add more cold water to cover along with a teaspoon of salt and a half-teaspoon of baking soda.  Bring the beans to a boil and then maintain a steady gentle boil until they are tender.  Cooking times may vary so begin checking for tenderness after 20 minutes.  Cook until nicely tender but not mushy.  Drain and let cool, and your chickpeas are recipe ready.
Chicken and Chickpea Chili
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium-large yellow onion, chopped to yield about one cup
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp. chili powder (more or less to taste)
1 Tbsp. ground cumin (more or less to taste)
1 – 1½ lbs. cooked chicken, diced or shredded
3 cups cooked garbanzo beans
3 14-15 oz. cans of good quality diced tomatoes, fire roasted if you’d like
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Juice and measure your oranges and set the juice aside.  Heat olive oil n a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and add onions, stirring and sautéing for about 5 minutes or until soft.  Add garlic and stir, cooking for about 30 seconds.  Add the cumin and chili powder and stir, heating the spices through, about 30 seconds. 
Add the chicken to the pot and stir, coating it with the spices.  Continue stirring and infusing the meat for another minute or so, then add the beans, the tomatoes, and the orange juice.  Reduce heat and simmer gently until flavors meld and chili is heated through, about 30 minutes. 
Ladle into bowls and serve with any of your favorite toppings – minced jalapenos, chopped scallions, chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream, grated cheese.  A seasonal green salad and warm cornbread make nice sides.  



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