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Healthy Pasta Substitute: Chickpeas (with recipe)

by | Sep 29, 2010
Chickpea Puttanesca

Chickpea Puttanesca

I’m generally not a big noodle fan. Homemade fresh pasta is great, but I rarely go through the trouble to make it myself. Also, pasta isn’t particularly healthy and I’m happy to keep it as a special occasion food.

But sauce is a different story. I love a chunky summer tomato puttanesca sauce. In the past I have made a big batch, put the first serving on rigatoni, then used the rest on whatever I happened to have in the fridge over the next few days. I’ve tried it on brown rice and quinoa (neither is particularly good), but one day all I had was some chickpeas I made in the pressure cooker.

This changed everything.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a perfect match to a thick Italian red sauce. At this point I actually prefer my puttanesca on chickpeas rather than pasta. And I feel way better after eating it. This is also a wonderful substitution if you are sensitive to gluten.

I doubt chickpeas would hold up as well with all sauces, but I think red sauces are safe. My guess is lighter sauces that rely more on the distinct flavor of pasta would prove disappointing. Pesto might be nice, but probably as more of a side dish than a main course.

This is a new version of my puttanesca recipe. In a pinch you can substitute a 28oz can of diced tomatoes for fresh ones.

Chickpea Puttanesca

(serves 4)


  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes (Early Girl or San Marzano are best), diced
  • 8 anchovy fillets, minced
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2-3 tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas

If you’re starting with dry chickpeas, soak 1 cup (or more) dry beans overnight. Cook in pressure cooker until tender ~20 min, or boil covered in a pot (~1 hr). The rest of the cooking takes about 20 minutes, so adjust accordingly. You can make these a day or two ahead as well.

Press or finely mince garlic and soak it in 1 tbsp of water in a small cup or bowl. Let sit 5-10 minutes.

Heat a large pan on medium and add 2 tbsp olive oil. When the olive oil swirls easily in the pan add anchovies, garlic mixture and chili flakes. Stir continuously until garlic just begins to brown, about 2 minutes, then add tomatoes and simmer.

Allow tomatoes to cook, stirring occasionally. If the tomatoes begin sticking to the bottom of the pan, add 1/4 cup water to thin the sauce. You may need to do this several times, depending on your tomatoes. When the tomatoes begin to soften, use a wooden spoon to crush them a bit in the pan to create smaller chunks.

After sauce has simmered about 12-15 minutes toss in capers, olives, and parsley. Mix to combine. I tossed in some excellent olive oil at this point to brighten it up. (Don’t bother with this if you only have cheap olive oil.)

Pepper is a nice addition, but salt is probably not necessary because of the anchovies.

Drain chickpeas and scoop about 1/2 cup into a bowl. Remember that chickpeas are much more filling than pasta, so you will likely need less than you think. Spoon over sauce generously. Serve immediately.

You may also enjoy Better Than Pasta Subtitutes: Summer Squash Noodle Recipe and Video

Have you tried beans as a pasta substitute?

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Turkish Quinoa Pilaf With Chickpeas, Kale and Pomegranate

by | Nov 16, 2008

A couple weeks ago the New York Times health section featured several recipes using quinoa (keen-wah), a small, round ancient seed from Peru that can be used much like a cereal grain.

Because I had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to make this recipe for Quinoa Pilaf With Chickpeas, Pomegranate and Spices. I must admit, while it sounded good I did not expect to like it as much as I did.
I did not have an onion, but I had leeks so I used them instead. This made the recipe faster since leeks only require 1-2 minutes of cooking before additional ingredients are added.
Also, I do not have a spice grinder so I added slightly smaller amounts of already ground spices instead of toasting and grinding them myself. I just eye-balled the amounts using a teaspoon measure.
The recipe says that canned chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are fine, but I prefer to make my own. In my opinion, homemade beans are much better than canned. However, I have the luxury of having a pressure cooker in the house, which reduces cooking time for beans to about 25 minutes (including depressurization). Otherwise beans require at least an hour to cook. They also require several hours of soaking. Since beans are one of my most reliable and affordable protein sources, this process is worth it for me. If you would rather just crack open a can, that is your call.
Finally, I wanted a little more green in my meal so I steamed half a bunch of dinosaur kale. To prepare, I cut it up into bite sized pieces and steamed it for 8-10 minutes. I salted it then added it to the quinoa after I added the chickpeas. I strongly recommend adding kale if you plan to use this recipe as a main course. It was delicious!
Adaptation of New York Times Quinoa with Chickpeas, Pomegranate and Spices (with kale):
  • 1 teaspoon(ish) cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon(ish) coriander
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium leek, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups cooked quinoa, (1 c. dry)
  • 1 cup cooked chick peas (canned are fine), rinsed
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Rinse and chop kale and place in steam basket over shallow water. Cover and steam 8-10 minutes. This step is particularly important for dinosaur kale, which can be very tough. If you are using traditional kale, reduce cooking time accordingly. Cook until tender then sprinkle with sea salt.

Adjust a frying pan to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the leek and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and salt, stir together for about half a minute, and stir in the cumin and coriander. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the quinoa, chick peas, kale and 3 tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds. Stir over medium heat to heat through, several minutes. Taste and adjust salt.
Transfer to a platter or wide bowl and decorate with the remaining pomegranate seeds. You can also mold the pilaf into 1/2-cup ramekins or timbales and unmold onto the plate, then decorate with pomegranate seeds.
Leftover pilaf can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Picture above was after 3 days, and it was still beautiful. Only the pomegranate seeds started losing color after awhile, but they were still tasty. Reheat 1-2 minutes in the microwave.
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