Beans can be used in just about anything. From soups and stews to burritos and salads, this perfect little ingredient should be a staple in everyone's kitchen. One type of bean that tastes delicious and packs a nutritional punch is Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans.(Image: Tainar/iStock/GettyImages)
Chickpeas are low in fat and rich in dietary fiber. They also provide a significant amount of essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, magnesium, molybdenum and folic acid. Plus, chickpeas are a low-cost protein alternative to meat.
Many people opt for canned chickpeas since they are convenient and easy to use. But the most budget-friendly, low-sodium way to make chickpeas a part of your regular diet is to start with the dried beans.
And while you can cook chickpeas successfully on the stovetop, preparing them in a slow cooker is often the way to go. It's simple, requires little oversight and you can add baking soda to break down the skin and soften them up.
Before putting dried chickpeas in the slow cooker, place the beans into a colander and rinse them thoroughly under cold running water. The amount of chickpeas you prepare should be guided by how many you want to cook at one time — anything from 2 cups to more than 4 cups will work, as long as they can fit comfortably in your slow cooker.
After rinsing, sift through the washed chickpeas with your fingers and remove stones, debris or any broken or discolored beans. Put the chickpeas into the slow cooker and pour in enough cold water to cover the beans by several inches, along with 2 teaspoons of salt per every 2 cups of beans.
Presoaking is unnecessary to produce edible beans in the slow cooker, but if you have digestive problems when you eat legumes, you can try soaking the chickpeas overnight in cold water before cooking to break down the phytic acid compounds that may cause intestinal gas.
Adding Baking Soda
Many cooking experts say to add a pinch (1/4 tsp) of baking soda to the chickpeas and water before you begin cooking if you have hard water. This is because baking soda is alkaline, meaning it has a high pH level, and chickpeas that are cooked in water that has a hard, acidic pH level — below 7.0 — can become indigestible and yield fewer nutritional benefits to the eater. Hard water may also cause the beans to require more cooking time than beans prepared in soft water.
Once the chickpeas are in the slow cooker and the water and baking soda have been added, the cooking time will vary depending on your time constraints and what you plan on using the beans for.
For chickpeas that are soft and ready to eat but not mushy, count on two to three hours on high, or six hours on low. To yield beans that will hold their shape when used to prepare other dishes such as soups, allow five hours on the low setting, while very soft, puree-worthy chickpeas will require about seven to eight hours on low.
Since cooking times can also vary depending on the age of the beans, you should start checking for the desired level of doneness after four hours, then every half-hour after that point.
Use and Storage
When the chickpeas are cooked to your preference, whether still slightly hard or easily mashed with a fork, drain them in a colander, reserving the cooking liquid, and rinse them well. Use the beans immediately or store them in the refrigerator up to five days in the reserved cooking liquid.
If you want to freeze slow-cooked chickpeas, let them drain for at least 15 minutes after rinsing, then spread them onto a baking sheet and place the sheet in the freezer. When the chickpeas are frozen, store them in airtight plastic containers or plastic freezer bags for up to six months.
Ideas for Using Chickpeas
If your experience with chickpeas is limited to hummus, you might be surprised at the many ways you can use this mighty legume. In fact, these beans make a great addition to any salad, soup or burrito bowl. What's so great about chickpeas is you really can't go wrong with how you use them.
Try spicing them up with cumin or make them sweet with cinnamon. You can chop them up and throw on top of a Greek salad or slice them thin and add them to a veggie pizza. They pair great with avocado or curry and make a tasty garnish for pasta dishes. You can even sneak them in a fruit smoothie for an added boost of fiber and protein.REFERENCES & RESOURCES The Healthy Eating Site: How to Cook Chickpeas in a Slow Cooker The Kitchn: Recipe Basics -- How to Cook Beans in the Slow Cooker Good Housekeeping: How to Cook Dried Beans Home Ec 101: How to Cook Dried Beans The Weston A. Price Foundation: Putting the Polish on Those Humble Beans The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living; Mark Bittman The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook; Editors at America's Test Kitchen Glycemic Index: Chickpeas Nutrition Facts