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Roasted, salted chickpeas have long been popular in the Middle East. In 1875 they were so well-liked that Armenian composer Dikran Tchouhadjian named his operetta after a peddler of the snack: Leblebici Horhor Ağa (“Master Hor-Hor, the Chickpea Vendor”). Roasted chickpeas have become trendy in the United States, too. It's easy to see why: They boast the crunch and saltiness of chips and pretzels, but they're protein-packed and lighter on oil.
Recipes are straightforward: Just drain canned chickpeas and oven-roast (temperatures and times vary widely) until crisp. Some add oil from the get-go, others wait. Ditto for spices, salt, and sugar.
I found that the oil (1½ tablespoons per can of beans) needed to go on early to help crisp the chickpeas, lest they simply dry out. Spices, on the other hand, burned and turned bitter when added at the start. Fortunately, residual heat in the chickpeas was sufficient to bloom the spices.
Choosing an oven temperature was more challenging. At high temperatures, the chickpeas split slightly at their seams, creating tiny pathways for oil to enter. As the beans “fried,” they expanded like popcorn, turning from creamy and dense to light and crisp. But by the time they were crisp, many had burned. A low-and-slow approach had the opposite effect: The chickpeas simply shrank and turned hard, becoming more like unpopped popcorn kernels.
If the beans needed a burst of heat to turn crisp and airy but were prone to burning, the solution was obvious: Start high and finish low. Indeed, 30 minutes at 500 degrees followed by 30 minutes at 400 degrees produced a light, crunchy snack. But the results varied depending on the oven I used. Highly insulated ovens held on to lots of heat even after the temperature was reduced, scorching the beans, whereas poorly insulated ovens required longer cooking times.
Could I transfer the high-heat stage to the microwave? Yes. After a 10-minute zap, most of the beans had split. Tossed with oil and roasted for an hour at 350 degrees, they were as good as any I'd made using just the oven. The beans at the edges of the pan still sometimes burned, so I pushed them all toward the center after a midpoint stir. Now every last chickpea was perfect.
Finally, the spices. Chickpeas are used throughout India, so a version with curry spices seemed appropriate. Another, seasoned with smoked paprika and cayenne, was reminiscent of the Spanish bar snacks I love. I also came up with a chickpea version of barbecue potato chips, just to show that the sky's the limit with this delicious—and virtuous—recipe.