One of the things that surprised me when I first started shopping at Central Asian bazaars was the large number of roving food merchants peddling an impressive array of snacks. They are especially noticeable at the bigger bazaars, like Almaty’s Barakholka or Bishkek’s Dordoi, massive wholesale and retail markets that sell just about anything you can imagine being produced in China. Small carts navigate the rows of shipping containers that serve as storefronts, selling drinks and snacks to the throngs of shoppers. But even at the smaller, more produce-oriented markets like Zelenyi Bazar in Almaty or Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, you see people meandering between stalls, hawking corn on the cob, samsa (savory pastries filled with meat or cheese), doughnuts, tea, and even ice cream. One of the first things that greets you when you approach Zelenyi Bazaar is the sound of young women calling out, “Doughnuts! Warm, fresh doughnuts!”
Street food ranges from the simple to the highly sophisticated. Especially with the rise of gourmet food trucks, even the most discriminating epicurean can get a satisfying meal on the street. Some of my favorite street food, though, is surprisingly straightforward. I was in India at the beginning of March for a conference, and I was surprised to see carts selling nothing but fresh peeled cucumbers, lightly seasoned with salt. When I visited Emily in Morocco a couple of years ago, we concluded a shopping expedition to Rabat’s Medina at a cart selling warm spiced chickpeas in paper cones. They should sell this on street corners everywhere, I thought.
My interest in chickpeas as snack food was rekindled in a somewhat less exotic location, when on a visit to Eunice in Manhattan she introduced me to the magic of oven-roasted chickpeas. They are incredibly easy, irresistibly habit-forming, and even reasonably healthy. I sprout my chickpeas first, but you can also use canned or cooked beans. Be forewarned: They make for an addictive snack (I usually consume about half of them immediately upon removing them from the oven). They’re also a great addition to salad (I just had them with quinoa, fresh sorrel, and radishes, with a squeeze of lemon juice. I’ve also used them with spinach, roasted turnips, Korean carrots, and tahini dressing), but make sure you’re not using too many wet ingredients, or else the chickpeas might get soggy.
Spicy Roasted Chickpeas
2 cups chickpeas, canned, cooked, or sprouted*
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one lemon (Tashkent or otherwise)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
-Preheat oven to 400F/200C
-Pat chickpeas dry with a paper towel
-Combine chickpeas, oil, lemon juice, and spices. Mix well.
-Place on parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet
-Roast until crispy, about 45 minutes
*To sprout chickpeas:
Rinse dry chickpeas
Cover with water and leave for about 12 hours
Transfer chickpeas to colander; drain and rinse
Cover wet chickpeas with a cloth or paper towel
Rinse chickpeas several times a day to ensure that they remain moist
epeat until the chickpeas have sprouted and small shoots have formed (this should take 2-3 days)