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chickpea, spring onion + tuscan kale salad {a spring panzanella, revisited}

I was cleaning up one evening in the small kitchen at a community centre in the city. An after-school program held for teenage girls had just wrapped up. In the previous 3 hours, we had talked about the benefits of produce and whole grains for growing bodies, made hummus, wholewheat pita from scratch and a huge tabbouleh salad together. We had also discussed the disappointing aspects of school lunch programs and some simpler things on how their day had gone. I was wiping the counters down, filing away the knives and cutting boards, digging the crud out of the dishwasher strainer as the sun disappeared outside–just trying to finish up so that I could hop on the bus and have a quiet night at home.

As I was wiping the main island countertop, with its stacked pots, bowls and bins of donated wooden spoons + other necessaries stowed away underneath, the two women who ran the program were in discussion. One was holding a can of chickpeas. She led another program at the centre for women who had recently immigrated, where they would cook and discuss the transitions taking place in their lives. Leaning on the counter, she said something to this effect: “The women in my group, they tell me that they don’t know what to do with these. *gestures to can of chickpeas* They get them all the time from the food bank, and because they don’t know them, they throw them away.” This was a strange dilemma (and further proof that food banks are often a bandaid solution to issues of hunger and good health). The wholesome food was made accesible in a very physical and easy way, but the barriers to wellness and prosperity still shot up.

What followed was her strategy of trying to incorporate legumes into more of her sessions, to use encouragement and to approach the many-sided issue, as always, with respect. Something as simple-seeming as teaching individuals to cook and incorporate certain foods into family meals led to the conclusion that more support was needed from the community at large. It’s never enough to simply provide the food, wish the individual good day and move on with your life. That disappointingly frequent support paradigm is an exercise in isolation. The second that dignity is compromised, the road to health and vibrance becomes rougher and frustratingly longer for the individual. There is a disconnect between their life and the community that they are trying to thrive in. By asking questions and thinking on her feet, this woman was paving a way forward, for her program participants and their families.

This moment of realization and moving ahead is on my mind often and remains a motivation when I develop a recipe. It’s the reason why I would never, ever say that refined flour is inherently bad, that sugar/agave/any sweetener should be banned from your cupboard without question, that all of your stone fruit must be organic because the pesticide level deems a conventional version too toxic etc. It is wonderful to work with whole grain flour, natural sweeteners and organic produce, sure, and sometimes those things can be quite affordable (this depends on your priorities too). But you have to know what to do with them first. Food has the power to heal and nurture, but it is first and most importantly necessary for life. It gives you strength for everything else.

As humbly and deliciously as I can offer, I made you a salad primarily composed from chickpeas and stale bread this week. The vegetable component is 3 distinct alliums (just onions y’all). The grassy chives, the pungent red bulb onion and sweet charred leeks. These flavours epitomize early spring for me. We stuck a chive plant into an old pot many years ago, basically neglected it and have since been rewarded with emerald green, fresh blades every year when April rolls around. Low maintenance, supremely cost-effective flavour right outside my door. I am trying to work more towards dishes with this kind of feel–ones that anyone can make in whatever capacity so that they can go into other aspects of their lives with vibrance and capability, whether because of nourishment or a small shred of empowerment.

Hope you’re all seeing beautiful green, spring-y things in your little nooks of the world. Big hugs. xo


chickpea + spring onion panzanella recipe
serves: 4-6
notes: If you have ramps or green onions popping up where you are, I would definitely slice up the greens of either and add them in. Also, I grilled some of the vegetables, but have included instructions for oven-roasting here, since that seems to be more of an option for people. If you have a grill, just brush the veg with some oil, salt + pepper and place them on a medium-high grill until charred a bit and soft.

salad ingredients:
2-3 cups roughly cubed stale bread
2 tbsp oil of your choice, divided
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 bunch of leeks, tough greens + roots trimmed away
1 small red onion, peeled + quartered
4-5 stalks of lacinato/tuscan kale
2-3 radishes, thinly slices
chopped chives for garnish
salt + pepper

dressing ingredients:
1/4 cup chopped chives
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
splash of water
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt + pepper
1 tbsp raw honey/agave nectar/brown rice syrup/maple syrup
1/3 cup grapeseed or other neutral tasting oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

On one sheet, toss the cubed bread with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season to your liking. Once all of the bread is coated, slide the sheet into the oven. Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until bread pieces are deep golden brown. Set aside.

Cut the trimmed leeks in half down the middle, lengthwise. Rinse them thoroughly to remove any grit between the layers. Place them on the other lined baking sheet. Place the quarters of red onion on the sheet as well. Toss the vegetables on the sheet with the remaining tablespoon of oil and some more salt + pepper. Slide the sheet into the oven and roast for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are browning and getting tender. Toss the kale leaves onto the sheet in the last 5 minutes if you like, or leave them raw. Allow vegetables to cool slightly.

While vegetables are roasting/cooling, make the dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix or pulse everything until a pale green and creamy mix is achieved. Taste it for seasoning, adjust if necessary and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas and toasted bread. Chop up the leeks, red onions and kale into bite size pieces and toss them into the bowl as well. Season the whole mix with salt + pepper if you like. Pour the dressing on top (you might have a bit extra). Toss everything together to combine. garnish the salad with chopped chives and sliced radishes. Serve immediately.

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Kathryn10/04/2013 - 5:24 am

As ever, Laura, you are a total inspiration. I love the sincerity and accessibility of this post – it’s one of the reasons that I come back here again and again because you are so genuine. Plus you make pretty amazingly delicious sounding salads like this!

Nicola @ Homegrown Kitchen10/04/2013 - 5:54 am

Thanks Laura, another beautiful post. And yes sometimes it is the simple foods that nourish us. I like the idea of simple meals using what you have on hand. A lovely looking spring salad as we on the bottom of the world head towards winter.

Jenny @ BAKE10/04/2013 - 6:15 am

This is such a wonderful post to read! I must admit up until a few years ago I wouldn’t have known what to to do with a tin of chickpeas! this salad looks absolutely amazing and your photography is beautiful!

thelittleloaf10/04/2013 - 8:38 am

This is a beautiful post in so many ways. Food is so important – you make it special and everyday in a completely unique way.

michele10/04/2013 - 9:29 am

So much love for this post- this kind of dish is why your blog is so wonderful. Simple, delicious looking, super accessible. I always leave with an “I could do that!” kind of feeling. This is the kind of food I like to cook every day. xoxo

Ashley10/04/2013 - 9:35 am

Beautiful, beautiful, all the way around. From your words, to the food, to the photos. Your sincerity, kindness, and thought always shine through these posts!

Betsy10/04/2013 - 9:40 am

Beautiful salad and great post! A friend was recently telling me how the food bank gives her so many dried beans she ends up throwing some away. Its now my mission to give her more recipes to make with dried beans. Very thoughtful

Alex10/04/2013 - 9:41 am

Beautiful post Laura! All around.

Amy10/04/2013 - 10:04 am

What a wonderful post and gorgeous salad to accompany it. This post resonated with me a lot as I am a nutrition educator at a food bank and empower people with basic cooking skills and nutrition education each and every day. In fact, we just covered chickpeas in two of my classes this week! Such education is so necessary, especially here in CA as two thirds of what we distribute is fresh produce. Thanks for your post an for being an awesome culinary inspiration!

Heidi @foodiecrush10/04/2013 - 10:12 am

Your commentary about educating others on how to prepare these healthy, but sometimes formidable foods, is right on the money. While organic and whole foods are a benefit to all, creating simple foods with accessible ingredients is what will help cure the hunger plight we face. Love this whole notion and tasty, healthy greens.

Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough10/04/2013 - 10:56 am

Oh my goodness, beautiful, beautiful photos and words as always. This recipe sounds like the perfect thing to welcome in the springtime.

Chandra10/04/2013 - 11:01 am

This has to be one of the most, if not the most stunningly beautiful blog posts I have encountered in many years searching the internet…and then, the added bonus is your thoughtful, thought-provoking commentary. Your example is the one to emulate!

Golubka10/04/2013 - 11:11 am

It is such a beautifully written post Laura, and I agree with you on every word! I too came from far away and wasn’t familiar with the majority of the ingredients that I now use on a regular basis. And this panzanella – my favorite, just gorgeous.

Sonja10/04/2013 - 11:36 am

Wow. Stunning words and photographs, along with a humble, beautiful way of looking at the world and a passion for making the joy of food available to all. Kudos to you, Laura — this post is touching and lovely.

Tiffany10/04/2013 - 1:21 pm

What a great post. Something we don’t even really think about — HOW to use what we have. Education is so important, and you are doing a great thing.

Plus, this sounds amazing. I think I will need to make me some.

Kate10/04/2013 - 1:32 pm

Gorgeous words. Gorgeous salad. I crave Spring tastes in phenomenal ways and this gives me hope, even as a mid-April snowstorm is bearing down on us. Panzanella salads are a favorite around here, and this one needs a green light in our kitchen.

Very good, strong post. Food is so important. Since we don’t have problems with getting it, we forget how important it is.

Eileen10/04/2013 - 2:56 pm

What a great combination of vegetables! I love the idea of reimagining panzanella for the first vegetables of spring. :)

sarah10/04/2013 - 4:06 pm

Lovely, Laura. This struck such a chord. I so appreciate your honesty, and the way you are always looking both inward and outward. Your humble way of sharing always (always!) stirs something in me, makes me want to take care of not just myself, but of others. You are a gem, truly. xo

Nicole | Eat This Poem10/04/2013 - 5:30 pm

First, my mouth is watering right now! Second, I love this story you shared. Just beautiful.

[...]     Love that Italian bread salad thing, panzanella. Here’s a different take: chickpea + spring onion panzanella from The First [...]

Beth | {local milk}10/04/2013 - 8:28 pm

This might be my most favoritest riff on panzanella I’ve seen thus far. I’m kind of married to my admittedly staid and kind of traditional one. This is the first i’ve run across that has me shoving my old paramour out of the way in favor of mixing things up. I can’t wait to make this. Tomorrow. For dinner. Mixing up my starter right now. There is nothing about this I don’t love. Nothing.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar11/04/2013 - 10:01 am

So gorgeous!! Yum!

Claire Suellentrop11/04/2013 - 3:28 pm

You hit the nail on the head in your discussion of the accessibility of food vs. knowledge about how to use it. Beautifully said.

I’m currently back at home visiting family (who aren’t exactly clean-food-conscious) and am trying to incorporate more simple, whole foods into my parents’/siblings’ diets where possible–their ideas of “healthy” include chemical-filled protein bars and 45-calories-per-slice bread with ingredient lists a mile long. My mom is eager to learn about new and “foreign”-sounding ingredients, but is intimidated by the prospect of testing out new recipes on her own. We’re setting a mother/daughter hummus making date, for example, and I can tell how excited she is to no longer rely on purchasing the prepackaged stuff every week.

It’s all about the baby steps, isn’t it? Phasing in new types of beans here, phasing out the boxed mac n’ cheese there. Baby steps to better food, baby steps to better health.

[...] PESTO, My New Roots; ROASTED GARLIC AND CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH PESTO, A House In The Hills; TUSCAN KALE SALAD  WITH CHICKPEAS AND SPRING ONIONS, The First Mess; A LESSON IN ALL THINGS ASPARAGUS, Manger; SMOKY BEET BURGERS, Sprouted [...]

tara13/04/2013 - 10:18 am

Beautifully said, Laura, and beautifully actualized in your recipe. Inspired, as always.

Now here’s hoping that spring decides to arrive soon. Cheers.

Jacqui13/04/2013 - 2:46 pm

Your words are so dead-on. And your many versions of panzanella always leave me with cravings!

Michael Falso15/04/2013 - 3:13 am

The content was as wonderfully composed as the salad. What a very powerful experience, and thank you for sharing. I’m very impressed, and I loved how simple yet refined the panzanella salad is. Well done!

Kathryne16/04/2013 - 1:22 am

Love your message here, Laura. So important to keep in mind. This panzanella looks spectacular—your recipes always are.

Sarah16/04/2013 - 5:11 pm

I agree–this post is beautiful in many, many ways.

hungryandfrozen16/04/2013 - 6:34 pm

This post was just gorgeous. I always appreciate when people are striving for good but can see the bigger picture! And also this salad is just the sort of recipe I need for when it feels like there’s absolutely no food in the house, but I still want something kinda nourishing and comforting.

Dana17/04/2013 - 8:18 pm

Laura! This recipe was so timely because I started a whole foods cleanse this week and I can have (pretty much) everything in it! I actually made it for a dinner party I attended and everyone RAVED about it! They kept asking me what was in it and how I made it. I gave you all the praise! Making it again now, sans croutons. Next time I think I’ll add beets! Thanks again – muah!

Shira20/04/2013 - 8:00 pm

So beautiful Laura, thank you! Reading this post made me feel as though I was reading my own thoughts – you expressed so beautifully precisely the dilemma we as a larger community are facing in terms of accessibility, know-how, and at the end of the day, dignity & respect.I work closely with programs that offer food & support to families that need it and it is amazing to hear the stories of food not being used simply because people do not know how to use it. Thank you, for this. I cannot believe I did not read this until now. xx

Arleigh22/04/2013 - 11:22 am

A friend made this for a dinner party and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to recreate it, but it was so simple and tasted just as good in my kitchen. Wonderful recipe!

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[...] ♚ I love recipe that effortlessly combine healthy and delicious – Chickpea, Spring Onion, Kale and Panzanella Salad [...]

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Lee Anne22/01/2014 - 10:26 am

Just made a slightly tweaked (more wintery/crazy warm January) version of this for lunch, and man was it good!! Your blog is always such an inspiration, for food as well as thought. Thanks for what you have to say, Laura! X

Pat12/02/2014 - 8:49 pm

Hi,
This is one of the best hardy salads I’ve ever tasted. Every morsel satisfied the hunger for a hardy and heart-filled meal. It was easy, accessible and just down-right homey! Delicious not only in flavor but in texture. It satisfied my hunger into the next day and took an edge off of my wishing-winter-was-over mind. And on top of all that, my husband kept saying how great it was and he’s a pretty tough character when it comes to voicing his appreciation.

I have been behind in writing a friend of about 45 years after we were finally able to exchange letters at Christmas. This recipe and your refurbishing brought back many memories of her generosity, creativity and love of good, healthy food. So tonight I’m sending her this recipe as a special thank you for years gone by.

Thanks
Pat

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