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The cheat: chickpeas

Canned chickpeas punch well above their weight, all year round. Keep some in the cupboard and you've got an instant start point for soups, stews and salads.

The mighty chickpea can be roasted, sprouted, ground into flour, or shaped and fried into falafel, but here we're dealing with the time-saving canned variety. Keep a few tins of versatile chickpeas in the cupboard and a midweek meal can be fashioned in minutes. Chickpeas have a creamy texture and match well with heavy spices, fresh, punchy herbs and a kick of acidity, especially from lemons. When you're short on time or if soaking slips your mind, canned chickpeas make a great substitute for dried. Throw them into soups, toss them in salads, or simmer in a well-flavoured stock, then crush with plenty of butter and ample seasoning for a new take on classic mash. Opinions are divided on whether dried or canned chickpeas make the best hummus, but when time is tight a version made from canned chickpeas will be appreciated by unannounced guests. Be warned, however: the same rule doesn't apply to falafel. If you have forgotten to soak your dried chickpeas overnight, don't try to use canned, but rather leave it for another day instead.

Carrot and chickpea salad
Serves 4
Place 600gm Dutch carrots on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, add 1 tbsp cumin seeds and roast at 200C until tender (20 minutes). Combine 400gm canned chickpeas with grated zest of a lemon, 2 tsp smoked paprika, 2 finely grated garlic cloves and 2 tbsp olive oil. Spread over a baking tray and roast until warmed through (8 minutes). Transfer to a large bowl with carrots, a cup each torn mint and flat-leaf parsley, ½ thinly sliced Spanish onion, juice of a lemon and 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil. Season, and serve with Greek-style yoghurt.

Hummus with chickpea, lemon and parsley salad
Serves 4-6
Blitz 400gm canned chickpeas with 2 tbsp tahini, a garlic clove and juice of a lemon in a processor until smooth. Season and thin with warm water until smooth. Mix ½ finely diced Spanish onion, 100gm canned chickpeas, ½ cup chopped parsley with juice of ½ lemon, 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp roasted, crushed cumin seeds. Serve salad on hummus with bread and lemon wedges.

Chickpea, pumpkin and coconut curry
Serves 4 (pictured)
Sauté an onion and 2 garlic cloves, both thinly sliced, in olive oil until tender (6 minutes). Stir in 2 tbsp grated ginger, 1½ tbsp mild madras or korma curry powder, 400ml coconut milk and 200ml chicken stock and bring to the simmer. Add ½ butternut pumpkin, in 3cm pieces, and simmer until soft (10 minutes). Add 400gm canned chickpeas, bring to the simmer. Stir in 2 handfuls of baby spinach, season, and serve with coriander, mint, lime wedges and steamed rice.

Quick chickpea, sausage and tomato braise
Serves 4
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté an onion and 2 garlic cloves, both finely chopped, until tender (5-7 minutes). Add 4 merguez sausages, squeezed from their casings, with 1 tbsp chopped thyme and fry until golden (5-7 minutes), breaking up sausages with a spoon. Add 800gm canned cherry tomatoes, 400gm canned chickpeas, season, and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with bread or soft polenta with grated parmesan.

Hot tips
+ The bugbear with canned legumes can be the liquid they're canned in. Always drain the chickpeas and rinse them thoroughly under cold running water until they're no longer foamy before using.
+ Try to buy organic chickpeas in cans that are BPA free. Two such readily available brands are Ceres Organics and Eden Organic.
+ For a super-smooth hummus, remove the skins from the chickpeas before blending.

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