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Palouse farmer introduces green garbanzo

Wed., April 14, 2010

Immature chickpea healthier, more flavorful

Wheat is the crop that gives the rolling Palouse its famous crown, but look closely at the hills and you’ll discover other plants contributing to that signature patchwork of green and gold.

Garbanzos, or chickpeas, have long been among the crops that farmers rotate through the fields to replenish and protect the soil.

The legumes are mostly dried and sold as the blond beans sprinkled on salads or whirred into hummus. But now a Genesee, Idaho, farmer has found a way to usher the garbanzos to stores while they’re still in their spring green.

Doug Moser and Clearwater Country Foods recently introduced its Garden Green Garbanzos to stores in the Northwest.

The green garbanzos are the same legumes farmers in the region have always grown – seeds that can be traced back to wild plants in Turkey and Syria – except they’re picked earlier while still green, then blanched and flash-frozen.

“It’s just an immature garbanzo bean that is picked in its fresh state and consequently its nutritional values are higher and it’s much more flavorful,” said Moser, a fourth-generation Palouse farmer who has been working to create a market for the beans since the mid-1990s. “The simple reason is that the natural sugars haven’t turned to starch.”

Although canned chickpeas, dry beans and ground chickpea flour are most common in North America, fresh chickpeas are eaten elsewhere as a snack food and side dish.

In other countries where the chickpeas are grown, the green beans are sometimes sold still attached to the uprooted plant or in the fuzzy, loose pods. Buyers pick and shell the beans.

In Mexico, they’re eaten raw or steamed still in the pod (think edamame) and served with lime, chili and salt. In India, the fresh chickpeas are simmered in curry dishes such as chana masala.

Fresh chickpeas sometimes turn up at farmers markets or ethnic groceries in the United States, but until Moser began working on ways to bring the green garbanzos to stores they hadn’t been widely available.

People who are discovering the fresh chickpeas describe the flavor as similar to fresh peas. Others say the flavor is more nutty or buttery than the familiar reconstituted, dried beans.

Compared to traditional chickpeas, green garbanzos have more protein, folate and fiber. A 3.5-ounce serving contains 140 calories, 2 grams fat, 9 grams dietary fiber and 8 grams protein.

Moser said that when the beans were tested at the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center, researchers said it was one of the most positive new food products they had seen.

Rod Jessick, executive chef at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, said he first saw the green garbanzos when Moser brought them to a farmer and chef collaborative on a cold, snowy day.

“They brought their Garbanzomole and no one could stop eating it, including myself,” he said.

Jessick and other chefs who work with him began experimenting with the green garbanzos, tossing them into salads, pasta salad and rice pilaf, pureeing them for hummus, soups and canapés, and creating a green garbanzo sauce for a popular scallops and prawns dish served at Beverly’s.

“I like the taste and I like the texture. You just want to be careful that you don’t overcook them or they lose their color and texture,” he said.

Jessick and his crew helped create a handful of recipes for the green garbanzos, including an updated version of the Garbanzomole, a caprese pasta salad, a three-bean salad and green garbanzo pesto chicken sandwich (recipes follow).

The recipe cards are available on the Clearwater Country Foods Web site, www.clearwatercountry.us.

Moser and his family began growing chickpeas in the early 1980s, when a friend and mentor suggested the crop as a rotation for wheat.

“When he first said garbanzo, I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding, this is a joke,’ ” Moser said. “He could have been saying, ‘Mexican jumping bean.’

“I didn’t know what a garbanzo was. You didn’t see them in salad bars at that time.”

The first year, they grew a little test plot. The year after, Moser planted 20 acres and it did well enough to convince him that they should consider planting more.

The crop worked out well on his farm in Genesee, near the Clearwater River country. At one point, his family was growing almost half of the garbanzos in the United States.

He said the crop did really well until the mid-’90s, when grading standards for the crop changed and prices dropped. Moser said he often ate the beans green from the field in the summertime and sometimes found himself wondering if there was a way to get them to the market green.

That musing became more focused after a conversation in an Alaskan bar in 1995. Moser was on a fishing trip with friends when he struck up a conversation with a man over beers. When the stranger found out Moser grew wheat and garbanzos, he couldn’t stop talking about how much he loved garbanzos at his hometown in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“And as we talked, I realized he was talking about eating them fresh,” Moser said.

There was still a long road ahead. It included much more than just developing a market for the green garbanzos. Moser had to modify the harvesting technique to gather the garbanzo pods while they were fresh, and create processing procedures and packaging.

The green garbanzos are not grown on certified organic land, but he said the plant is naturally resistant to many insects and doesn’t require fertilizer. The plant returns nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, which makes it a good rotation crop for wheat growers.

“That period took some innovation. It is a really simple idea, but we had to develop everything,” Moser said.

“We didn’t even know blanch times for garbanzos. … It’s different from a pea, different from a lima bean, it’s different from sweet corn. As simple as that sounds every piece of this had to be put together.

“It was a lot of trial and error and we lost a lot of product,” Moser said. “It took pretty much all of our savings.”

About that time, Moser and his wife, Judy, visited a patent attorney to talk about protecting the new processes he was developing. Although the lawyer agreed he could patent the ideas, he had some words of warning:

“He told us, ‘I want you to know if you move ahead with this that nine out of 10 inventors fail, then out of that 10 percent only 1 percent of those make it.’ Judy walked out of there just ashen gray.”

Moser felt like he had too much invested to turn back.

They planted the first commercial crop intended for green garbanzos in 2002. By the next year, he had a tote of frozen green garbanzos that looked and tasted great – but no place to sell them.

“Nobody was buying green garbanzos. People didn’t even know what they were,” Moser said.

For the next few years, he worked on creating a market by visiting local grocery stores, markets and restaurants. The green garbanzos became a popular deli item at the Moscow Food Co-op.

By 2004, as Moser was on the cusp of breaking into a larger market, he ran out of money and backing. He and Judy filed for personal bankruptcy that year.

“We lost our farm,” he said.

Rather than give up, Moser kept working. He wrote a couple of grant requests for the project and got approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

No longer farming, he threw himself headlong into development and marketing. Contracting with other area farmers, friends in most cases, Moser grew green garbanzos in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The breakthrough came that later year.

“Trader Joe’s bought every pound we had,” Moser said. “It was 2 million pounds. That disappeared in two and a half months and (the buyer) came back and asked me for 2 million more pounds.

“I’ll never forget it. I said, ‘Well I can get you more next year.’ I was that naïve. He practically hung up the phone on me.”

Moser may have had a coveted new product, but in the eyes of the market, he was an “unreliable supplier.” He’s had to work hard in the years since to overcome that tag.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” he said. “I had no idea. Looking back on it, it is pretty evident you don’t do those things.

“Trader Joe’s was trying to make their customers happy and people wanted (the garbanzos) and all of sudden they’re gone. There is no excuse for running out.”

Today, the first question buyers ask is whether he’ll be able to keep them supplied with the green garbanzos. The answer is an unequivocal yes.

Select Costco stores in Washington and Oregon introduced two-pound packages of Garden Green Garbanzos from Moser’s Clearwater Country Foods last week. The 2-pound bags of frozen green garbanzos sell for $4.47.

Moser hopes the demand for the green garbanzos will grow and more stores will be interested in carrying them soon.

“There’s been a lot of tears,” Moser admits. “Blood, sweat and tears, and the words of that attorney still haunt me. I didn’t know that it would be this difficult.”

Before the launch of the garbanzos at Costco last week, Moser was excited but nervous. He said it was the faith of regional companies that have brought his business back from the brink, including Costco and Washington Trust Bank.

“Yeah, we’d like to get our security back, but I don’t need a lot of money,” he said. “I just feel so good about a healthy wonderful product and being able to bring this to people around the world. The other thing I feel good about is that I think this will help a lot of farmers.”

The Best Garbanzomole

From Clearwater Country Foods, Genesee, Idaho

4 cups green garbanzo beans

1 lime, juiced and zested

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 1/2 tablespoons hot sauce (Tabasco or Cholula)

1 cup water

1 avocado

Salt

Fresh cracked pepper

1 red onion, diced

1 Roma tomato, diced

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 to 2 jalapenos, chopped (or to taste)

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

1 red pepper, diced

In mixer combine garbanzos, lime juice and zest, cumin and hot sauce. Purée and slowly incorporate water and avocado to desired consistency. If mixture needs to be thinned, add more water until desired consistency is reached.

Remove to bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and fold until mixed thoroughly.

Yield: About 4 cups

The Coeur d’Alene Garden Green Garbanzos Caprese Salad

From Clearwater Country Foods, Genesee, Idaho

½ pound mini farfalle pasta

8 ounces green garbanzos

4 ounces diced red tomatoes

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese (preferably pearl-size; see note)

1/2 cup chiffonade basil (finely sliced)

2 cups balsamic vinaigrette (any store brand)

Cook pasta per package instructions and cool. Microwave green garbanzos for 2 minutes.

In a medium bowl, add tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and green garbanzos to pasta. Toss in vinaigrette dressing and garnish. Serve chilled and enjoy.

Note: Chefs recommend using Perlini, or pearl-size fresh mozzarella balls for this salad.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Garden Green Garbanzos Pesto Chicken Flatbread

From Clearwater Country Foods, Genesee, Idaho

7 ounces green garbanzos

1/2 cup mushrooms

1 cup basil pesto

1 loaf flatbread

10 ounces boneless, skinless, seasoned grilled chicken

1 cup Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup fresh basil

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes

4 ounces mozzarella cheese,  shredded

Microwave green garbanzos 2 minutes. Sauté sliced mushrooms in canola oil.

Mash garbanzos and fold in basil pesto. Spread green garbanzo pesto on flatbread; add chicken, Parmesan cheese, basil and sun-dried tomatoes. Garnish with more green garbanzos, sautéed mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

Bake in convection oven for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Yield: 4 servings

Garden Green Garbanzos Three Bean Salad

From Clearwater Country Foods, Genesee, Idaho

8 ounces green garbanzos

8 ounces black beans

8 ounces kidney beans

1/2 red onion

2 tablespoons white sugar

3/8 cup champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon celery salt

Microwave green garbanzos for 1 minute. Mix all beans together with onion, sugar, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and celery salt. Let sit in refrigerator at least 8 hours. Serve chilled.

Yield: About 31/2 cups

Clearwater’s Garden Green Garbanzo Hummus

From Clearwater Country Foods, Genesee, Idaho

2 1/2 cups green garbanzos

Juice of 2 lemons

2 garlic cloves

Dash of cayenne

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted (see note)

1/2 bunch cilantro (discard the larger, tougher stems)

3 tablespoons tahini, stirred

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt, to taste

Garlic, to taste

Cayenne, to taste

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, lightly crushed

Additional olive oil, sunflower seeds, sweet paprika and pita bread, to serve

Place green garbanzos in a steamer over boiling water and cook for about 20 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Cool for 5 minutes.

Place the garbanzos in a food processor with 1/4 cup water, the lemon juice, garlic, cayenne, cumin seeds, cilantro, tahini and olive oil. Blend until smooth.

Adjust the seasoning to your preference with salt, garlic and cayenne. Stir in the sesame seeds.

To serve, drizzle the hummus with olive oil and sprinkle with sunflower seeds and paprika. Accompany with pita.

Note: To toast the cumin seeds, place in a dry skillet over medium-low heat and cook for 1 or 2 minutes until fragrant.

Yield: About 3 cups



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