I came across a recipe for Balilah in Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook, Jerusalem. What made me fall in love with this was that it was a Middle Eastern version of a comfort snack food that my dad introduced me to from ONE particular street vendor in Mumbai in 1998. He insisted that I try the snack just for observing the sheer attention to detail that that food vendor lavished on each cone of the 'chane ki chaat' (chick pea chaat). (This was a 'defining' moment for me, an unforgettable lesson to cast aside food snobbery and appreciate street food for what it is.) The resulting dish was a bejeweled mix of green chickpeas and ruby red pomegranate arils, interspersed with the tiniest bits of sweet onion and pinpricks of heat from finely, almost-minced green chiles.
While making Balilah for this years Thanksgiving supper, the memories came flooding back and the resulting version of my appetizer was a blend of similar street foods from two great culinary traditions. (With some improvisation thrown in!) —Panfusine
Test Kitchen Notes
Wow! This dish is delicious, and my husband and I polished off the entire batch in one sitting. It has a powerful combination of flavors: tart pomegranate arils, earthy garbanzo beans, briny preserved lemon, smokey toasted cumin, zingy serrano, sharp onion, and green parsley. I was a little concerned the ingredients might not play well together, but panfusine has done a masterful job of balancing them. There are no bullies here! The components get along even better after mingling for a half hour or more, so definitely make some to keep in the fridge for snacking. —hardlikearmour
shallots or 1 medium-large red onion, finely diced
ground, toasted cumin seeds
Kosher salt to taste
packed finely chopped parsely
optional green serrano chile, deseeded and finely chopped
fresh cracked peppercorn
extra virgin olive oil
In This Recipe
Rinse the plumped up chickpeas and cover with enough water in a large pot. Add a pinch of baking soda and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes until the chickpeas are soft but not mushy. Rinse the cooked beans, drain and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Remove and discard the seeds from the preserved lemon. Chop the fruit finely and using the flat surface of the knife, crush the pulp to mush (peel, pulp & juice). Transfer the entire lemon mush into a mixing bowl. Combine with the olive oil, cumin, chile (adjust as per your personal heat preference or omit), peppercorn, onions and parsley.
Add the chickpeas and the pomegranate arils to the preserved lemon mixture and gently fold to coat the chickpeas. Taste for seasoning and adjust for salt. (The preserved lemon already is quite salty, so add the salt carefully).
Serve as an appetizer or as a healthy lunchtime salad served on a large lettuce leaf 'bowl'.