As Food52 gets older (and wiser), and our archive of recipes grows, we're making the effort to revisit some gold recipes and pick the brains that invented them. Today, it's longtime F52-er Aliwaks, on the smoky, tapas-friendly chickpeas recipe that has over 3,434 fans (and counting).
Since Ali Waks Adams, aka Aliwaks, first posted her recipe for fried chickpeas in 2009, a lot in her life has changed. She got married, moved from Philadelphia to coastal Maine, and—most significantly, perhaps—went from being a home cook to a professional chef. “I always wanted to be a chef,” she says, “but I was just afraid of it. I loved restaurants and restaurant culture. But it’s always scary to do the thing you want to do.” And yet, here she is—thanks in no small part, she says, to the support of the Food52 community.
“The amazing thing about Food52 is that at every juncture in my career when I needed to make a decision, I won a Food52 contest.” Should she go to culinary school or continue working in PR? She won the contest for Your Best Recipe with Paprika, and off to culinary school she went. She staged at an Italian restaurant, then worked for a Jewish-style deli (where Amanda and Merrill celebrated the Philadelphia launch of the very first Food52 cookbook). When her father died on the same day that the restaurant closed, “I laid under my bed for six months,” she says, then decided she needed a radical change (“I thought, ‘We gotta get the f*** outta here,’” are her exact words).
Ali and her husband moved up to Brunswick, Maine. “Then, I met the food writer Christine Burns Rudalevige (aka 9cheese12270) who lives in my town. I was like, ‘Hi, we don’t really know each other except for Food52, but we’re gonna be friends.’” Just as the two of them started doing pop-ups together, Ali won the contest for Your Best Recipe with Walnuts. “It was a sign!” she says. Through her popups she met the owner of The Brunswick Inn, who invited Ali to cook at there—now, in addition to running the Inn’s catering program, Ali does dinners for the public one night a week.
Sarah Whitman-Salkin: You posted this recipe in 2009. When was the last time you made this dish?
Ali Waks Adams: It was my first Food52 recipe! I still make a version of it on my catering menu, as part of a mezze platter. It’s simplified: I throw them in the oven while I’m doing a thousand other things.
SWS: Many commenters suggested baking the garbanzos instead of frying them. Is there a difference in the taste or texture of the final dish?
AWA: Yes. When you fry them, especially if you don’t spend the 17 1/2 hours to peel the chickpeas, the little peels come off and you get that other delicate crunch. You’re never gonna get that if you’re not frying. I think this is true with cooking in general: When you take that extra step, when you make that extra effort, it’s worth it.
SWS: Your recipe makes these with canned garbanzo beans, a pantry staple, which is part of what makes this recipe so great. Have you ever made it with dried chickpeas? Is there a difference in the finished dish?
AWA: Yes. You have no control over the texture in a can; they’re always gonna be the same. When you cook them yourself, you can decide if you want them firm or mushy. Nowadays I tend to go from dried to fresh much more often, because it makes sense for me to have a 20-lb bag of dried chickpeas in my pantry. But it’s not as spontaneous as saying, “Let me grab some things out of the pantry, throw them together, and make something amazing.”
SWS: Do you think all brands of canned chickpeas are created equal?
AKA: I don’t think so. Some are funkier. I go for Goya most of the time, but the organic ones seem to be goopy and smelly for some reason that’s beyond me.
SWS: Have you ever riffed on this with different herbs, spices, or different types of beans?
AWA: That would be interesting. [Update: After our conversation, Ali sent this email: “I needed a crunchier element for my ceviche tonight—decided to fry hominy w garlic, cumin & lime!!”]
SWS: The frying oil that’s left over once everything’s done cooking is infused with garlic and thyme and lemon (and of course a little chickpea flavor, too). What do you do with the leftover oil?
AWA: I would totally drizzle it over fish. Or you could drizzle the oil over Greek yogurt with fresh garlic. Or over feta cheese.
SWS: You mentioned serving this on mezze platters, which is a great idea. Is that primarily how you think of serving this these days?
AWA: I like it for a pre-dinner or hanging out snack, as opposed to as part of a meal. Which doesn't mean that leftovers couldn’t become a textural element in another dish! After everyone goes home, if you’re scrambling some eggs, or you have some leftover rice, you could fold them in. They’re not the same thing they were before, but they’re still good. You could throw them in a blender with an egg and make a chickpea burger.
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