Friday, July 29, 2005

Chick-Pea Flights of Fancy

The tiny plane’s even-tinier engines begin to purr. All on board the private jet are buckled into their seats. Even though they are on a plane, the passengers are truly departing on a “busman’s holiday.” Rather than leaving for a leisurely stay at sun-washed beaches or mountain cabins, the vacationing chefs are departing on a whirlwind, worldwide market tour – doing exactly what they do every other day, only in faraway places.

Each chef has a tiny suitcase, tucked under the seat in front of him (or her, of course!). In each suitcase is one costume-change – or should we say, one disguise! On this mission, each chef has a critical assignment and blending in with the locals will be a crucial element of success. The energy of anticipation is in the air.

As the plane touches down on a makeshift runway, the anticipation turns into a babble of excitement. Well-rounded bodies strain to free themselves from the cramped quarters. At this stop, Pois Chiche (an alias for today’s mission) is responsible. He has donned his tailored slacks and jacket, slipped into his polished brown loafers and completed his disguise with a jaunty, yet subtle, beret. Before leaving the plane, he winks at his friends. Pois Chiche knows exactly where he is headed and, in no time, climbs back into the plane, winks again, and hands his bounty to the mission commander. “There they are,” he says, “some of France’s finest walnuts from the Perigord!”

Even before the congratulatory applause has ended, the plane engines purr again, all clamor for their seats and they are off! At cruising altitude, the chefs realize that the Alps look particularly majestic today. Confident Cece (that’s right – also an alias!) has no time for awestruck gazing, however. She has barely enough time to strap on her airy sandals and wiggle into her designer dress and bright, yellow sunhat before the plane lands once again, this time in Tuscany.

As Cece steps from the cockpit, the capable smile on her face suggests that all will be well with this mission. Indeed, in a flash, she has struck up a conversation with a prize-winning Italian chef who is also shopping for olive oil. After both of them taste a half-dozen of the best oils, swishing and swirling the samples in their mouths like fine wine, Cece says her goodbyes and returns to her chefly comrades. “Here it is,” she beams, “Italy’s brightest sunshine!” She hands the bottle of shimmering, gold-green olive oil to the commander and breathes a soft sigh of relief. Her portion of the mission has been an overwhelming success. First-cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil. The absolute best!

As the tiny plane heads west, the orange-red sky, with its bright orange sun, strikes a prophetic note for gregarious Garbanzo. His mission (given that he has chosen to accept it) is oranges – the sweeter, the better! The sunny fields of Mexico spread out before the tiny plane as it rolls to a stop. Behind the plane, the produce market near the dance ballroom is crowded with strollers. Garbanzo’s black-fringed hat, form-fitting suit and hard-heeled boots are the perfect attire for the assignment – one dazzling senorita even asks him to be her partner for the evening’s opening dance!

Tempting though it is to give up his cooking for the dancing scene, Garbanzo keeps focus and quickly identifies the display of sweet-and-juicy oranges. He selects the prescribed dozen for his assignment – then adds four more. As he steps into the plane, he tosses an orange to each of his compatriots and soon, four fine sprays of “orange mist” are dappling cockpit windows as discarded orange peels drop to the floor.

Coolheaded Chick-Pea (aliases no longer required!) barely has time to pull out a wet-wipe and clean her orange-juiced hands before it is time to jump into her California jog outfit – or should that be called “active wear” now? Flip-flops slapping on the plane's metal stairway, she hits the tarmac at a run, pulls the sunglasses down from the top of her head and is browsing at the California market place faster than you can say Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Soon, Chick-Pea’s mission, like those of her team members, has been a complete success. Round and plump raisins – a wicker basket full of them – complete the requirements for the full mission. As the Mission Commander, Chick-Pea breathes a sigh of relief that encompasses, and surpasses, all the others. She is confident that her client, the Ingredient Sleuth, will be pleased and that people from near and far will acknowledge the highly-versatile chick-pea (alias garbanzo, cece and pois chiche!) as the perfect blend with many great ingredients from the rest of the world.

Not just because the chick-pea is one of nature’s most-truly perfect foods – which it is. Not just because the chick-pea can be used in salads, soups, dips, pastas and stews – which it can. Not just because the little chick-pea chefs in the story are so silly – which they are.

But because the nut-like flavor and the slightly-firm texture of chick-peas are so tastefully-accommodating to other great ingredients that they simply DESERVE to be paired with delicious items from the whole, wide world!

Coincidentally, the little recipe that follows just happens to use the wonderful items that the Chick-Pea Chefs collected on their trip! (Isn’t it amazing how that happened?) Of course, apart from flights of fancy, the Ingredient Sleuth actually collected all of the ingredients at her local grocery -- except for the juicy orange, which came straight from the tree in her back yard!

Ingredient Sleuth’s Juicy Garbanzos

15-oz. can of chick-peas (garbanzos), rinsed and drained
½ cup walnut pieces (toasted is extra good)
½ cup raisins
½ cup orange juice
Zest of one orange, shredded (optional)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Mix together and refrigerate to chill, allowing the raisins to soften and the flavors to blend. Use as a salad, as a snack for the afternoon “munchies” or as a dessert or breakfast treat (yes – really!). If you call it “juicy garbanzos” rather than “chick-pea salad” when you serve it, the kids may just dive in for the duration! And the Garbanzo Chefs will be ever so proud that their mission has been triumphant!


kristi said...

This really is a funny story and it was lots of fun to read it! Love the way you have of glueing things into my brain so that I cn remember them when I get to the market! The recipe has so many of my favorite things in it and it has to be good!

Anonymous said...

I love your descriptions and clever ideas. Always fun to read.

marc&terri said...

This sounds SOOOO nice and cool! Just what we need in this ridiculous hot weather. Cool!


jennifer said...

The whole family loves garbanzos and loved your story too! The recipe sounds delicious and we have a batch chilling right now! Thanks.

gabriella said...

When my son was small, he liked chickpeas so much that I looked up many ways to prepare them. This recipe sounds so good and I know that he would have loved it. I think that I will prepare it for him the next time that he visits me.

jennifer said...

Just MUST post another comment on this recipe, now that we have eaten the juicy garbanzos. We took them to a family picnic and everybody loved them! We wish that some were left for us to take home but they were all eaten!

carolyn said...

We make a salad with chickpeas that has tomatoes, olives, onions and fetta cheese. It goes great with Italian food.