This is one of the rarest beans I know of, an ancient Italian bean eaten in times of poverty. Now the cicerchia, which is also known as chickling vetch, is a food the Italians eat to remind themselves about where they came from — a lot like why middle-class African Americans will occasionally still eat chitterlings, or why Minnesotans still eat lutefisk — codfish preserved in lye.
Eating cicerchia beans too much for too long is actually bad for you. Apparently if you make them the bulk of your diet, you can contract a disease known as lathyrism, which causes severe neurological damage. Thankfully, you’d need to eat pounds of cicerchia every week for a year to get it. Make these beans a special treat, not a staple, and you’ll be fine.
The flavor is unlike any bean I’ve ever eaten. Earthier, ever-so-slightly bitter, a touch like lentils crossed with chickpeas. I like them a lot. You can sometimes find cicerchia beans in specialty groceries; I’ve seen them in Whole Foods. You can also buy them online from my friend Scott over at the Sausage Debauchery. His beans are organic.
All this recipe is is a simple bean salad; I wanted to highlight the beans so I could taste why the Italians swoon over them. You could make this salad with chickpeas, too, although it’d taste different.
- 1 cup dried cicerchia beans, or chickpeas
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 ounces feta cheese, (about half a standard package)
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
- Zest and juice of a lemon
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Soak the cicerchia beans overnight.
- The next day, discard the soaking water and pour some more water into a pot. Pour in the beans and bring to a boil. Drop the heat below a simmer — you want the water to steam, not simmer. Cook the cicerchia beans this way until they are tender. It should take about 35 minutes, but it could be longer depending on how old the beans are.
- After the beans have been cooking for 25 minutes, add a teaspoon of salt to the water.
- When the beans are cooked, drain and rinse in cold water to stop them from cooking further. Pick and discard any stray skins that may have come off in cooking.
- Pour the cooked beans into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and let salad site, covered in plastic wrap at room temperature, for at least an hour or two before serving.
- Whatever you don’t eat that day, put into a covered plastic container in the fridge. It will last up to 5 days.