Mediterranean chickpea salad is classy way to eat one of the world’s pantry staples. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Mediterranean chickpea salad is classy way to eat one of the world’s pantry staples. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

This Mediterranean chickpea salad makes a pantry staple classy

It’s a mix of chickpeas, feta, Kalamata olives, parsley, almonds, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.

I don’t eat a lot of chickpeas — unless they’ve been turned into hummus.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are celebrated for their health benefits. The legumes are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals — and they’re a great source of fiber, too. The nutty beans are a kitchen staple all over the world, but they’re not one of mine. Not yet.

I have one recipe that calls for chickpeas, however, that I’m nuts about. It’s a hearty and simple salad that has inspired me to eat more of the legumes with two names.

If you’ve been hunting for an easy way to add more chickpeas to your diet, you gotta try this: Make Mediterranean chickpea salad.

It’s a flavor-packed, and dare I say, classy, salad of chickpeas, feta, Kalamata olives, parsley, almonds, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. It can be enjoyed on its own, as a side dish, wrapped in a pita or as a topping for greens. (I prefer arugula.)

What’s more: All of the ingredients are key to the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating plan based on the cooking styles of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Lebanon, Turkey and Morocco. The diet is essentially about eating more greens, beans, lentils and olive oil, while also cutting back on butter and red meat.

Research shows that following the Mediterranean diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as diabetes, asthma, inflammation, dementia and some cancers. It can add years to your life.

It’s also a great dish for vegetarians. As a legume, chickpeas are considered both a vegetable and a protein food. One cup of cooked chickpeas has 15 grams of protein — almost as much as a deck of cards-size serving of beef.

Mediterranean-style recipes are nutritious and health-promoting, but that’s not the main reason I like this salad. I like it because it simply tastes good. (By the way, I’m now on the hunt for other recipes that call for chickpeas, be they salads, soups, stews or otherwise.)

I make the salad with canned garbanzo beans, although you can also cook your own from dried or fresh. If you’re cooking your own, you’ll need two cups of cooked chickpeas for the recipe. While dried and canned chickpeas are easily found at the supermarket, fresh ones are harder to find.

If you go with canned, be sure to drain and rinse them in a colander. Rinsing them in cold water makes the beans easier to digest.

While my family makes the salad with black-ripe olives because they’re cheaper, I don’t recommend it. Black olives are bland in comparison to their deep-purple cousins. Kalamota olives have a distinctive rich, smoky flavor that gives this salad lots of class.

A half cup of parsley may seem like a lot, but that’s the point. Don’t skimp on this Italian herb, or you’ll be sacrificing flavor. Plus the parsley adds a pleasing pop of green to a very beige salad.

The olive oil, lemon juice and garlic serve as a simple dressing for the salad. While most of the dressing will initially sit at the bottom of the bowl, the garbanzo beans eventually soak it up while in the refrigerator. I sometimes add a bit more olive oil and lemon juice to prevent leftovers from getting dry.

I also like to buy sliced almonds for the salad, rather than the chopped it calls for. Sliced looks classier to me.

When I served the Mediterranean chickpea salad at The Daily Herald — I doubled the recipe so there would be plenty to go around the newsroom — my co-workers called it “unique” and “flavorful.” I completely agree with them. I had never eaten garbanzo beans like this before, which is probably why I once made it three times in as many weeks.

Mark Carlson, The Herald’s copy chief, liked the salad enough to eat it for lunch two days in a row.

“I like that the ingredients are cheap pantry staples,” Carlson said. “And that it can be put together in 15 minutes or less.”

He then listed off ways to incorporate it into a May cookout: “The salad would go great with lamb chops, burgers, sausages or chicken off the grill.”

Which reminds me: I need to make this for my next family barbecue. We’re having grilled chicken breasts.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

Mediterranean chickpea salad

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas (from dried)

⅓ cup chopped or quartered Kalamata olives

¼ cup chopped almonds

2 ounces feta, crumbled

½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place chickpeas, olives, almonds, feta and parsley in a medium bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add lemon juice, olive oil and garlic to bowl, toss again to coat. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 2-4 servings. Nutrition per serving (based on 4): 290 calories, 15.5 grams total fat (3.5 saturated fat), 13 milligrams cholesterol, 30 grams carbohydrates, 9.5 grams protein, 616 milligrams sodium, 1 gram sugar, 6.5 grams fiber.

— Recipe by Carrie Dennett (www.nutritionbycarrie.com)

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