What makes a good lunch? Our readers offer a litany of recurring requests: Let it be easy to make ahead. Let it be interesting, so that I do not get bored. Let it be OK to sit in my backpack, or my car, or my desk all day until I am hungry enough to eat it. Let it be healthy.
Well, I have one magic ingredient that is perhaps the ideal aid to all of these ends: Chickpeas. Toothsome, plump, and full of satisfying protein. Tender and wholesome, easy to transform into a lunch that nourishes.
This salad is one of my favorite ways to turn chickpeas into lunch: Crunchy with tiny cumin seeds, punched up with a pinch of red chili flakes. Cool, crisp cucumber nestles in between the chickpeas, and sun-dried tomatoes lend a savory note. It is totally satisfying and filling — and it just happens to be vegan and gluten-free, too, in case, such things are also on your list of lunch priorities.
But the best part is that it is simple yet vibrant — this salad always wakes me up a little at lunchtime, with its warmth, spice, and all-round tastiness. And it only gets better in the fridge. To me, this is a good lunch — maybe the best.
And a note on cumin, since I've already mentioned chickpeas. I adore using whole cumin in salads like these. Its nutty flavor and crunchy texture add a whole new dimension. I love cumin's history, too; has been used for thousands of years; it features in Indian, Spanish, Mexican, Greek, African, and Middle Eastern cuisines. It has many names — jeera, zeera, ziran. Like other spices there is a host of medicinal claims attached to its use: it can be used as a diuretic, and a stimulant to the appetite and lactation. Some think it relieves the hiccups. It's still used in veterinary medicine.
The thing that I love most about cumin is its warmth. It has this toasty, slightly bitter aroma that fills your mouth with warmth and the taste of something that has been sitting out in the sun all day. It feels like all those years of use and familiarity have bred into modern white cumin a fullness of taste and even of history.
Warm Chickpea Salad with Cumin & Garlic
4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste 4 garlic cloves, finely minced 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped 3/4 cup Italian parsley, leaves only Small handful fresh mint leaves 1 lemon, zested and juiced 3/4 pound English cucumber Flaky sea salt
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron is nice) over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and crushed red pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about one minute or until the seeds are toasted. The cumin will turn slightly darker in color, and smell toasty.
Turn the heat to medium low and add the garlic. Cook, stirringly frequently, for about three minutes or until the garlic is turning golden. Do not let it scorch or turn brown.
Add the drained chickpeas and the chopped tomatoes and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chickpeas are warmed through and are shiny with oil. Turn off the heat.
Strip any remaining stems away from the Italian parsley. Finely mince the parsley and the mint and toss this with the chickpeas. Stir the lemon juice and zest into the chickpeas.
Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise. Scrape out (and discard) the seeds with the tip of a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon. Dice the cucumber into small, 1/2-inch square cubes. Toss the cucumber with the chickpeas. Taste for salt. If necessary, add flaky sea salt to taste.
Refrigerate for at least an hour before eating. This salad is best after it has had a chance to sit overnight in the fridge, letting its spices and juices soak together into more than the sum of its parts. Serve slightly warm or room temperature. Really good at any temperature, actually.