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Chickpea Cakes for Your Inner Vegetarian

Roasted chickpeas have been all over the blogosphere lately. And why not? They're crunchy, savory, satisfying, and fun to eat. Who knew that the darling ingredient of silky smooth hummus fame could be eaten in a completely different and surprising incarnation? 

I seem to have done a lot with chickpeas lately. After cooking all day at the test kitchen, opening a can of chickpeas has been the sanest approach to dinner that I can think of apart from tabbouleh or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or just plain peanut butter, which tastes good on a spoon).

I love a good chickpea salad--chickpeas, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, salt, parm (thank you, Molly Wizenberg!). And you can do that any number of ways. I've even done something more exotic with toasted sesame and cumin seeds and pomegranate molasses. But sometimes you need to dress it up a little. Sort of like when you work at home and realize that you've been wearing your pajamas for the past week. Slip on that power suit and act like somebody!

The recipe for these is in the Joy, but I found the seasonings to be anticlimactic. When you're essentially making bean burgers, you have to make up for the fact that they aren't made of meat. Chickpeas have great flavor, but they're still beans. They need a little help. I used a teaspoon of my favorite homemade bottle masala from Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries, but you can use anything from a standard curry powder to garam masala to a mixture of ground cumin and coriander. Basically, you want a little bite to these. Nothing that a yogurt sauce can't tame, of course.

Having said that, I served these on a bed of tabbouleh with a simple yogurt sauce (watered down plain yogurt with a little salt and ground cumin). Tamarind or mint chutney would be a nice accompaniment as well. They were really lovely, and the crunchy sesame crust makes all the difference. 

Spiced Chickpea Cakes
Serves 4

Combine in a small skillet over medium heat and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes:
     1 tablespoon vegetable oil
     1/4 cup minced onion
     1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
     (2 Thai chilies or 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced)
Add and cook 30 seconds more:
     3 cloves garlic, minced
Transfer to a bowl. Add and mix well (use 2 eggs if mixture is dry):
     One 15 1/2-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and coarsely mashed
     1 cup cooked rice (white or brown)
     1 or 2 eggs, well-beaten
     2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
     1 teaspoon garam masala, curry powder, or spice blend of choice
     1/4 teaspoon salt
     1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Form the mixture into 8 small patties and set aside. Have ready in three shallow bowls:
     1/4 cup all-purpose flour
     1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
     1 cup sesame seeds
One at a time, dredge the cakes in flour, then coat with beaten egg, and then roll in sesame seeds. Set on a plate. Heat over medium heat in a 10- to 12-inch skillet:
     2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Add the cakes to the skillet and cook, turning once, until the seeds are golden and crisp, about 4 minutes per side.

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This is a mere guideline. If you're not sure about this, but want to try it anyway, roast a small cantaloupe. If you're feeling a little more devil-may-care, roast a big one.