Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are nutritional powerhouses. Chickpeas are low in fat, rich in dietary fiber and provide a significant amount of essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, magnesium, molybdenum and folic acid. In addition, chickpeas are a low-cost protein alternative to meat. Canned chickpeas are convenient, but the most budget-friendly and low-sodium way to make chickpeas a part of your regular diet is to start with the dried beans. While you can cook them successfully on the stovetop, preparing them in a slow cooker is simple, requires little oversight and, with the optional addition of baking soda, yields soft, easily digestible legumes.
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Before putting dried chickpeas in the slow cooker, place the beans into a colander and rinse them thoroughly under cold running water. The amount of chickpeas you prepare should be guided only by how many you want to cook at one time -- anything from 2 cups to more than 4 cups will work, as long as they can fit comfortably in your slow cooker. After rinsing, sift through the washed chickpeas with your fingers and remove stones, debris or any broken or discolored beans. Put the chickpeas into the slow cooker and pour in enough cold water to cover the beans by several inches, along with 2 teaspoons of salt per every 2 cups of beans. Presoaking is unnecessary to produce edible beans in the slow cooker, but if you have digestive problems when you eat legumes, you can try soaking the chickpeas overnight in cold water before cooking to break down the phytic acid compounds that may cause intestinal gas.
Both "Good Housekeeping" and Katherine Czapp writing for the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend that you add a pinch of baking soda to the chickpeas and water before you begin cooking if you have hard water. This is because baking soda is alkaline, meaning it has a high pH level, and chickpeas that are cooked in water that has a hard, acidic pH level -- below 7.0 -- can become indigestible and yield fewer nutritional benefits to the eater. Hard water may also cause the beans to require more cooking time than beans prepared in soft water.
Once the chickpeas are in the slow cooker and the water and baking soda have been added, the cooking time will vary depending on your time constraints and what dishes the beans are destined for. For chickpeas that are soft and ready to eat but not mushy, count on two to three hours on high, or six hours on low. To yield beans that will hold their shape when used to prepare other dishes such as soups, allow five hours on the low setting, while very soft, puree-worthy chickpeas will require about seven to eight hours on low. Since cooking times can also vary depending on the age of the beans, you should start checking for the desired level of doneness after four hours, then every half-hour after that point.
Use and Storage
When the chickpeas are cooked to your preference, whether still slightly hard or easily mashed with a fork, drain them in a colander, reserving the cooking liquid, and rinse them well. Use the beans immediately or store them in the refrigerator up to five days in the reserved cooking liquid. If you want to freeze slow cooked chickpeas, let them drain for at least 15 minutes after rinsing, then spread them onto a baking sheet and place the sheet in the freezer. When the chickpeas are frozen, store them in airtight plastic containers or plastic freezer bags for up to six months.