If you took a poll of every Montanan, I’m willing to bet the majority are not aware of one agricultural area where our state tops the country at #1. Big Sky Country is the number one producer of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) and lentils. But many probably don’t know that because we turn around and ship nearly all of them overseas.
I’ll admit it — I didn’t eat either of them growing up here. To me chickpeas were beige round beans in the salad bar that I never put on my salad. Never. And maybe a lentil snuck by me in some kind of soup, but they were certainly never anything we had in our pantry.
To be #1 in the country means something, and maybe it’s time it also meant something in Montana kitchens. A few years ago, I made it a New Year’s culinary resolution to learn more about these protein-packed pulse crops, and I’m here to share my discoveries with you.
One dish that has been popularized recently is hummus — a creamy dip with Middle Eastern origins. It’s actually an Arabic word that means “chickpeas,” so anything that is called hummus without that key ingredient is just a wannabe.
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The essentials of hummus are few — chickpeas, tahini, lemon, garlic, ice water and seasoning. This basic recipe is all you need, but it can also be a blank canvas to explore flavors and combinations of your choice with the addition of things like herbs, special spice blends, roasted veggies or avocado. These optional ingredients give you a chance to customize hummus to hit the right spots on your taste buds.
At the grocery store, you can now often find a whole refrigerator section devoted to hummus. If you are a frequent flyer in that section of the store, consider making some from scratch. You can make loads of it for much cheaper, use some local ingredients, and adjust the final dip for your own preferences.
There are recipes that start with canned chickpeas. While that may get points for ease, the final outcome is far from ideal as chickpea peels are the enemy of a creamy, smooth hummus. This recipe takes a bit of time, but your friends will be dying to know your secrets when they taste it. You can order some great Montana chickpeas from timelessfood.com (use the code JBIR15 at checkout to get a 15% discount).
1 cup dried chickpeas
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup tahini
Juice of one lemon (about 4-5 tbsp)
2 cloves of chopped garlic
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cumin
5-6 tbsp ice water
Let your chickpeas soak overnight in plenty of water. The next day they will be close to triple in size. Drain the water off and put in a large sauce pan on high heat with the baking soda. Cook them for a few minutes stirring continuously. Add plenty of water and bring to a boil. They will need to boil for approximately 20-30 minutes with intermittent stirring. There will be foam and peels that float to the top. After 20 minutes, check to see if the chickpeas are done. They should be almost soft when you bite one without becoming mush.
Using the saucepan lid, drain the hot water out of the pan. Refill the pan with cold water, stirring as the pan fills. This will bring some peels to the top. Tip the pan gradually to drain the water and let the peels run off into your sink. The chickpeas should stay at the bottom of the pan. Repeat this process several times (fill, stir, pour off) until you see very little peels coming off. Once you have reached this point, drain all water off and place the chickpeas into a food processor.
Run the food processor for a minute letting the chickpeas become a paste. Add your chopped garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt and cumin. Run the food processor again for a minute letting the ingredients incorporate. Make sure to scrape the sides of the food processor with a spatula to allow all ingredients to reach the same consistency. Using the food processor port at the top, slowly stream in the ice water as its running to achieve the consistency you are looking for and let it run another few minutes until smooth. Check for seasoning levels and adjust to your preferences (lemon, salt, cumin and garlic).
Top with a drizzle of olive oil, more lemon juice, fresh parsley and a dash of paprika. Serve with loads of fresh veggies, pita bread, rice crackers or whatever you like.
Jon Bennion is a native Montanan, born and raised in Billings. Outside of his day job as an attorney, you can find Jon experimenting in the kitchen and developing recipes that often feature a Montana ingredient or story. Jon posts on Instagram as Intermediate Chef (@intermediatechef) and lives in Clancy.