Red pepper boats with the cargo of crispy spiced chickpeas cooked on the hob is a dish full of protein and fibre goodness and marvellously satisfying.
Vegan butter doesn’t brown – what to do?
For a vegan version of this dish, the three dairy ingredients from the list need to be replaced. The cheese is optional anyway so it isn’t a problem; and there are plenty of yoghurt alternatives to serve with the dish. Butter is more problematic. Can a vegan fat/spread/margarine really be used instead of butter with the result of turning chickpeas deep brown and crisp?
The answer is, sadly: no. What browns in butter, gives flavour to chickpeas and other stuff and tickles our tastebuds with the Maillard reaction is the milk protein in dairy butter. Plant based margarines do not contain protein so the result will not be great.
Instead, for the vegan version, the chickpeas will need to be allowed to crispen in the olive oil they started to cook with – popping like corn and jumping out of the frying pan – and for extra flavour we can add some more fresh olive oil at the end of the cooking process. Only a little though, nowhere near as much as the amount of butter the recipe calls for, and only at the very end, to toast the spices but not burn.
Crispy chickpeas – a snack like peanuts
I found the recipe for crispy chickpeas in NY Times Cooking and appreciated its value as an easy snack, but immediately decided to build it into a proper dinner dish. Chickpeas, even spicy and crispy are all very well but you can’t just pick them one by one with your fingers at the dinner table.
You might as well have a bowlful of peanuts and call it main course. Which isn’t such a stupid comparison because chickpeas and peanuts are members of the same plant family: legumes.
Chickpeas, together with lentils, split peas, kidney and other beans are a subgroup of pulses. They are actually dried seeds of the respective plants so if anyone ever tells you that they bought fresh lentils and cooked them for supper, you’ll know they are a serious fantasist.
Legumes and pulses are a good source of protein as far as plants are concerned which is why they have a bit of a hippie reputation: vegetarians and vegans reach for legumes to make up the animal protein shortfall in their diets.
Chickpeas and peppers are great together
This dish is an all-round pleaser then: vegetarians can add the butter to the cooking, vegans will stick to the olive oil and the dish either way is extremely filling and satisfying. If you crave more heat than the spice of fennel and chilli flakes, add a teaspoon ground chilli or cayenne pepper to the pan.
Chickpeas with peppers are a classic, it has been proved before in the chickpea salad. I like the red pepper halves, lightly roasted on a baking sheet, like little boats filled with chickpeas sat on the shallows of yoghurt.
If you prefer courgettes (but who on earth would?), carve them into long boats and roast like the peppers, just a shorter time. You can happily use large flat field mushrooms in the same way, or big tomatoes.