Christmas. Depending where in the world you were born, where your descendants hail from, where you’ve travelled, who you’ve married, the God you worship, why, it can mean all sorts of things. When we’re talking food, in Albania, it’s pumpkin and walnut pie. Czech Republic? Christmas fish soup. Jamacia? Rice and peas. That’s right, folks, Christmas is not all about the pudding and ham. And in our household, it’s all about the humble chickpea.
That’s right, Christmas means chickpeas in our house and for so many of my younger years, I tried to fight it. All my life, at Christmas, Nonna would pile plates up high with, what we thought, were chocolate pastries. Not dissimilar to a sweet version of an Indian samosa, there was deep fried pastry encasing a chocolatey mush. But one day, at a time when veggies were uncool and fairy bread was an acceptable afternoon snack, I heard Nonna mention “ceci”. Wait? Ceci? That’s the stuff in soup I’d pick out! Chickpeas, that’s what the Aussies called them. And they were “EW!”.
The truth came out, and it hurt just as much as finding out the truth about Santa when I stumbled across a mysterious pile of presents in my parents wardrobe. So the boycott began- I wanted desserts and I wanted them chickpea free!
Fast forward a year or two and I couldn't take it any longer- it was time to accept that something partially nutritious could also be delicious. But it’s taken until this year for the Master to pass along her secret recipe. A recipe taught to her by her grandmother-in-law. It is a recipe that hails from the rolling hills of Chieti, a tiny town in Italy where my Nonno grew up. Despite coming from the next town across, Nonna had never heard of this recipe so like any good Italian wife, learnt quickly to impress her man. Fifty seven years later, and she’s still doing the same, and Nonno is still equally impressed. This year has been a challenging year for Nonna, she was scared with the evilness of the Big C- Cancer- and living away from home made me realise how fragile our lives are. So this year was the year to stand with Nonna in a overheated garage (because the kitchen is far too good to be used for crazy activities like cooking) and learn as she kneads, rolls, fills, cuts, and deep frys. And here is the recipe for a dish that really doesn’t have a name- Fritte di Natale Abruzzesi- Christmas Fritters from Abruzzo (the region of Chieti), straight from Nonna’s hand written recipe, written in days before children and grandchildren, before flashing lights on Christmas trees and celebrity versions of Christmas carols and Boxing Day sales. When Christmas was about sharing special foods with family, foods that were only eaten once a year because it was expensive, simple foods like chickpeas.
Now I could go on and on about why this dietitian loves the fact a dessert has chickpeas in it. I could tell you why they're amazing and why those following a Paleo inspired diet which bans these super foods are missing out. Reasons like; they’re high in both soluble and insoluble fibre (good for your bowels) and polyunsaturated fats (good for your heart), they are one of the lowest GI legumes going around with a score of 6 (anything <55 is considered low GI, so these are “apple bottom jeans boots with the fur” low), they have been sown to lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol as well as fasting insulin, they can even lower your blood glucose levels in the meal rolling your chickpea meal. But instead, it’s Christmas. So I’m off to dig into this Chieti specialty and listen for the thousandth time of Nonna’s childhood stories. Coz really, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?