Fresh from the Pod: Green Garbanzos

raw garbanzosThis find from a Salem, Oregon, supermarket may be nothing new to the Californians and Southwesterners among my readers, but it got me excited: fresh garbanzos, fully grown but still green and in the pod. I shelled them like regular peas—each pod cradled just one or two garbanzos—and boiled them for seven minutes before tossing them into a salad. Cooked, they had a flavor that was pea-like, though less sweet, and a firm texture with none of the mealiness of dried garbanzos. My dinner guests startled at the cooked chickpeas’ bright yellow-green color.

cooked garbanzosAn ancient food of the Mediterranean region, southern Asia, and North Africa, garbanzos need a long, rather cool growing season in well-drained soil. So where had these pods come from, in early April? I guessed southern California, and a little sleuthing around the Web reinforced my suspicion.  A company called Califresh was established near Fresno in 2002 specifically to produce green garbanzos, after the founders saw Mexican immigrants selling uprooted plants, their green pods dangling, along the roadsides of southern California. Green garbanzos had long been a popular snack in Mexico, and Mexican immigrant communities were a ready market. Soon Califresh had expanded production to several Californian and Mexican growing areas so the company could supply the fresh market year round. And the market was wherever a lot of Mexicans were settling—as they have been, in recent years, in and around Salem, Oregon.

I’ve never grown garbanzos, for either fresh or dried use. I’d like to do it just for the treat of my own in-pod green garbanzos. And in growing my own I could try red, black, and brown chickpeas, from among any of the dozen or more varieties listed by Seed Savers Exchange. Could I really manage to grow them, though, with my heavy soil and short growing season?

Garbanzos can indeed be grown in cooler places. Thanks in part to the current craze for hummus, they are now a major commercial crop in eastern Washington, western Idaho, and Montana, and farmers also grow them in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oregon. In fact, for several years now a farm family in my county has been growing, drying, and shelling garbanzos for local sale.

Garbanzos are usually planted in early spring, because the plants need at least three months to produced filled pods and longer for the pods to dry. Our wet soils of spring and cold rains of autumn will be problematic for me. But producing green garbanzos should be much easier than producing dry ones. And if necessary I can follow the example of other dogged gardeners, by starting the seeds indoors–in biodegradable pots, because garbanzos dislike having their roots disturbed.

If you’ve grown garbanzos or found good ways to prepare the shelled green chickpeas, I’d love to hear about your experience.