Not only did the United Nations dub 2016 the “International Year of Pulses,” but the increased popularity of vegan and gluten-free diets has pushed the nutritious and sustainable chickpea into the spotlight and onto Pinterest boards around the world. The legume is used in everything from mock “tuna” salad to veggie Bolognese, while aquafaba—the thick, viscous liquid they’re canned in—is used as an egg white substitute.
Though garbanzos are trendy, their presence on the culinary scene is nothing new. A staple of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Indian cooking for more than 7,500 years, this humble bean’s high-protein, low-fat profile has catapulted it to the top of many “healthiest foods” lists over the years. Here we take three traditional chickpea preparations—hummus, falafel, and socca—and pair them with cheese for extra punch.
Americans love hummus. In 2014, US consumers spent $1 billion on the puree. Garlicky and citrusy, the street food staple-turned-snacking MVP longs for the lactic zing of a salty aged provolone, says Kate Leeder of Aperitivo, a cheese shop in Grand Rapids, Mich. Another mouth-watering match? Sprinkle grated Ibores and a bit of chopped parsley atop hummus to bring out its vegetal undertones.
Luigi Guffanti Provolone Piccante Mandarone + hummus
Queso Ibores PDO + hummus
Falafel means “little rolls” in ancient Aramaic and “lots of beans” in Egyptian. Either way, now it translates to cooked, ground chickpeas mixed with spices and herbs, shaped into balls, and deep-fried to make crispy yet soft-centered fritters. The orbs are typically stuffed into pita bread, topped with salad or pickled vegetables, and drizzled with pepper- or tahini-based sauces. For a cheesy twist, swap out the sesame-based tahini for labneh, strained yogurt cheese that cools seasoned falafel. Or mimic feta’s brininess—a fail-safe favorite of Middle Eastern cuisine—with a generous dollop of Black Sheep Creamery Fresh Sheep cheese.
Karoun Labne + falafel
Black Sheep Creamery Fresh Sheep + falafel
Naturally gluten-free and vegan, socca—a thin chickpea pancake—makes a great base for crowd-pleasing apps and main courses (think pizza crust). Carolyn Stromberg, owner of Righteous Cheese in Washington, D.C., says lacey, crunchy socca is the ideal blank slate for toppings galore, especially cheese. Mimic the flatbread’s nuttiness with melted slices of rich, salty Zamorano, or give it a Mediterranean accent with Monte Enebro, a wedge that harbors bright notes of lemon and citrus.
Zamorano PDO + socca
Rafael Baez Monte Enebro + socca