Fresh Nature in the Press: Fresh chickpeas continue to grow in popularity across region

Adriana Janovich photo

Downriver Grill’s Mediterranean pan-seared halibut with garbanzo bean puree is topped with green garbanzo bean salsa and served with glazed carrots.
(Full-size photo)

Nutrition information

Green Garbanzo Beans

Per 4-ounce serving

Calories: 140

Protein: 8 grams

Carbohydrates: 22 grams

Dietary fiber: 9 grams

Fat: 2 grams

Cholesterol: 0

Sugars: 2 grams

Step aside, spinach. Move over, edamame. Kick it, kale.

The new green superfood just might be Palouse-grown spring green garbanzo beans.

The protein-packed and fiber-rich nuggets have been cropping up in grocery store salad bars and delis from Whole Foods Market in Seattle to Spokane’s Main Market and Moscow Food Co-op.

They also can be found in a frozen legume medley at Trader Joe’s, in appetizers and entrées at Spokane’s Downriver Grill and even in some corporate cafeterias and school lunches.

And, if a small, family-owned Spokane firm has its way, consumers will be seeing a lot more of the bright green beans.

Fresh Nature Foods specializes in growing and distributing green garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas. Since forming two and a half years ago, it has been working to expand the market for the colorful legume.

And it’s seeing some success.

Washington students taste-tested the company’s green garbanzos through a pilot program last spring in districts from Highline, south of Seattle, to Thorp and Cle Elum in Central Washington and locally at Mead and Spokane. The bright green beans are already served at Seattle University, Washington State University and Whitman College.

They also have graced menus at Masselow’s at Northern Quest Resort and Casino, a couple of eateries at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, Spokane’s Steam Plant Grill and some of Tom Douglas’ restaurants in Seattle.

A retail pack isn’t expected to hit select stores until autumn or early winter. Meantime, they’ll be featured in a charred Monterey Bay squid salad with chorizo on July 19 at The Alley at the Bite of Seattle.

“The demand is starting,” said Ryan Davenport, 35, president of Fresh Nature Foods.

Still, the marketing push might take some work, particularly with home cooks.

While green garbanzo beans are a common ingredient in many countries, most Americans are used to seeing the bean’s blond counterpart, which typically comes dried or canned and makes up the main ingredient in hummus.

The vibrant green beans hail from the same plant, only they’re harvested earlier when the legume is in its live state and full of moisture. They’re also more nutritious, with double the fiber and nearly double the protein.

“Most people don’t realize every chickpea starts green,” said Davenport, who owns Fresh Nature Foods with his wife, Katie, and a silent partner.

The company formed in 2012, but dates to a fourth-generation Palouse farmer who had been working to create a market for green garbanzo beans for more than 20 years.

Doug Moser, Davenport’s father-in-law, began growing garbanzo beans in the early 1980s.

“This has been his passion,” Davenport said. “It took years of development and gobs of money.”

Moser planted his first commercial crop intended to be harvested in its fresh, green state in 2002.

Two years later, he ran out of money and backing and lost the farm. But he didn’t give up on his dream. He formed a new company, introducing fresh frozen garbanzo beans to the market in 2006.

The product “sold well, but we didn’t anticipate the demand and didn’t have the supply,” Davenport said. “We didn’t know what to expect.”

Moser eventually dissolved his company, passing his dream on to Davenport, who is redoubling efforts to make green garbanzo beans widely available.

At his own home, “We use them in stir-fries,” Davenport said. “They make an unbelievable hummus. They’re great with a little sea salt,” like edamame. “Our kids” – four of them, ranging in age from 2 to 7 – “just gobble them up.”

Garbanzo beans trace their roots to wild plants in Turkey and Syria. They’re popular in India, where they’re commonly found in curries, like chana masala. In Mexico, they’re steamed in their pods and served with lime, chili and salt.

On the Palouse, they’re planted in late April and harvested in mid-July or early August, about 45 days before the tan-colored beans, which are left to dry on the vine.

Those who’ve tried them sometimes say green garbanzo beans have a creamier, more buttery texture than the ones harvested later. Some also report a sweeter, brighter, maybe lemony flavor, tinged with additional nuttiness. Others compare the flavor to that of spring peas.

Plus, they provide a burst of color.

Jonathan Sweatt likes that color pop – among green garbanzo beans’ other attributes.

The co-owner of Spokane’s Downriver Grill, Flying Goat and Simply Gourmet, a catering company, Sweatt, 37, has been developing recipes spotlighting the little green globes. They’ve appeared on pizza specials at Flying Goat and in entrees like a red quinoa summer salad and Mediterranean pan-seared halibut with garbanzo bean puree at Downriver Grill.

“We’re experimenting right now,” he said. “I love them in salads. I like the versatility of the product. I like the fact they are produced in the Inland Northwest. Our slogan is ‘local, seasonal, fresh,’ and this product really fits into that.”

Plus, he said, “There’s a million applications.”

His brother, Aaron Sweatt, 36, is the Pacific Northwest sales manager for Fresh Nature Foods and one of the company’s three full-time employees.

He’s working to build local distribution, but points out the product is already shipping to Canada and the United Kingdom as well as major cities throughout this country – from New York and Chicago to Los Angeles and Portland.

In addition to flash-frozen green garbanzo beans, Fresh Nature Foods has also created Green Garbanzo Veggie Cakes, similar to falafels.

Green garbanzo beans grown for Fresh Nature Foods are taken from the field right after they’re picked, then shucked, washed, blanched and flash-frozen, locking in moisture, nutrition, flavor and that vibrant color. They’re non-GMO and harvested without the use of insecticides on some 3,000 acres near Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater.

“This is local,” Davenport said. “This is chickpea country.”

Green Garbanzo Bean Hummus

From Downriver Grill in Spokane

2 cups green garbanzo beans, thawed

2 tablespoons roasted garlic

2 tablespoons tahini

1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons vegetable stock

1 tablespoon onion powder

1/2 cup olive oil

Fresh herbs (optional)

Juice of 1/2 lime (optional)

2 tablespoons pickled red radish (optional)

Combine beans, roasted garlic, tahini, paprika, lemon juice, vegetable stock and onion powder and place in food processor. Puree beans slowly adding the olive oil until consistency is smooth. Garnish with fresh herbs and freshly squeezed lime juice, or pickled radish, and serve with warm grilled pita bread.

Serves: 4

Red Quinoa Summer Salad

From Downriver Grill in Spokane

1/4 cup heirloom baby tomatoes, cut in half

1/4 cup green garbanzo beans, thawed

1/4 ounce fresh torn basil

2 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into medium dice

2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh herbs (flat leaf parsley, thyme, oregano)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing greens

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1 cup red quinoa, cooked in vegetable stock, and cooled

Baby arugula

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Mix all ingredients, through salt and pepper, in a bowl and let flavors marry for a minimum of 30 minutes. Mix in quinoa. Serve on a bed of baby arugula dressed with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.

Serves: 2

Mediterranean Pan-Seared Halibut with Garbanzo Bean Puree

From Downriver Grill in Spokane

3/4 cup fresh tomatoes, small dice

1 tablespoon red onion

3/4 cup fresh cucumber, small dice

1 tablespoon roasted jalapeños, small dice

1/4 cup kalamata olives, minced

1/4 cup green olives, minced

1 tablespoon roasted garlic, minced

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade

3 to 4 medium Yukon gold potatoes

1 1/4 cups green garbanzo beans, divided

3/4 cup vegetarian stock

6 medium carrots, greens still attached

2 6- to 8-ounce portions of fresh Alaskan halibut

Olive and canola oil blend for searing fish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make the salsa by combining tomatoes, onion, cucumber, jalapeños, olives, garlic, capers, vinegar, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, basil and ½ cup of green garbanzo beans in a medium bowl. Set aside to let flavors marry.

Cook and mash potatoes. Steep ¾ cup of garbanzo beans in the vegetarian stock. Puree mixture in a blender. Fold into mashed potatoes, and season to taste.

Roast carrots in 350 degree oven until tender.

Sear halibut in olive oil/canola oil blend and finish in the oven (you will know your fish is cooked perfectly when it is fork tender). Lay three carrots on each plate and top with a bed of the potato-garbanzo bean mixture. Place fish on top of puree, then garnish with the fresh salsa.

Serves: 2

Green Power Smoothie

From Fresh Nature Foods

1 cup green garbanzo beans, thawed

1 large green apple, core removed

1 ripe banana

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons honey

1 cup water

1/2 cup ice cubes

Chia seeds (optional)

Flax seeds (optional)

Blend all ingredients except for the seeds in a blender. Sprinkle top with chia and flax seeds, and serve.

Green Garbanzo Protein Salad

From Fresh Nature Foods

1/2 cup quinoa

1 cup water

1 cup green garbanzo beans, frozen

1/2 English cucumber, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1 stick celery, diced

1/2 medium carrot, diced

1/2 medium red onion, diced

1/2 ounce chopped parsley

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/8 cup lemon juice

3/4 ounce cider vinegar

1/8 teaspoon dill

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon dried basil

1/8 teaspoon minced garlic

For the salad: Boil quinoa in water. When tender, rinse and drain well. Cool on sheet pan. Microwave green garbanzo beans for 2 minutes, then let sit for 1 minute. Mix with quinoa, cucumber, pepper, celery, carrot, onion and parsley.

For the dressing: Combine remaining ingredients and mix well.

Mix dressing with quinoa mixture and serve.

Yield: 4 cups

Green Garbanzo Basil Bisque

From Fresh Nature Foods

2 tablespoons salted butter

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

3 cups green garbanzo beans

5 cups chicken broth, divided

1/2 cup basil, chiffonade

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt to taste

In a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, add butter, onion and garlic. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garbanzo beans and 4 cups stock and simmer uncovered until the beans are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in basil, cream, and remaining cup of stock. Remove from heat. In a blender, purée soup in batches until smooth. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Read the article in the Spokesman Review

Read the article in the Seattle Times