Going green this winter: Why you must include green chickpeas in your diet
Green chickpeas are often sold still attached to the branches they grew on.
Green chickpeas are often sold still attached to the branches they grew on. Part of enjoying them is the meditative picking from their fuzzy pods, to eat them on the spot, for a taste that combines the freshness of peas and the solidity of peanuts. Or to cook them in recipes like nimona, a dish of spicy mashed green peas or chickpeas made in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
But winter also has another chickpea product. The green leaves from the growing plant are also edible and harvested in this season. This must happen a bit before the pods are ready – the leaves on those branches sold in the market are too withered to be worth much. But farmers regularly prune the stalks with their tiny green leaves and cook them, or sometimes bring them to nearby cities to sell.
You won’t find them with the regular vegetable sellers, even those selling other leafy greens. Its usually an old man or woman on the roadside near a market with small spiraled heaps of chickpea stalks and perhaps bunches of bathua, the plant known as goose foot for the splayed shape of its leaves. Spinach is for the well-off, while these minor greens are left for the poor.
But there’s nothing minor about their nutritional benefits. A 2013 study from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (USA and UK) showed that “chickpea leaves contain much higher concentrations of a number of important minerals, relative to either spinach or cabbage.” The study recommends it for use with malnourished populations.
The leaves don’t taste bad either, with an appealing slight bitterness like fenugreek (methi). The farmers who sell at the Organic Farmer’s Market in Mumbai dry the leaves, which works better with their small size than with larger leaves like spinach. A packet of dried chickpea leaves is a useful nutritional and taste booster to have around.
Chickpea leaves also remind us how multipurpose legume plants are. Their roots stabilise nitrogen in the soil, restoring its fertility. Their pods give the beans we eat fresh or dried, as pulses and vegetables. And many have edible leaves too, lacking the cellulose and plant chemicals that make most plant leaves too tough and bitter to eat.
In Asia, legumes have always been used this way. Pea-shoots are used in Southeast Asia for stir-fries and salads. In India, we have methi, but also legume leaves like tamarind or agathi, which is apparently cooked with chicken blood as part of rituals to worship the fierce goddess Angalamman.
As Purdue University’s excellent crops site notes, Europeans neglected legumes in general, and their unfortunate influence has spread. Cooking channe ke saag this winter could be one way to provide some culinary counterbalance.