smoky chickpea tacos

smoky chickpea tacos

I was at 35,000 feet and hungry. Why didn’t I have this taco wrapped, packed and ready to eat during my long day of traveling?

Well, you know how it goes. I had a morning flight to San Francisco (where I’m attending the annual IACP conference), and somehow my priority tasks before heading out the door didn’t include packing myself a lunch. I made do for a few hours with a bag of almonds and my favorite peanut butter-chocolate chip Lara bar.

I finally caved during my layover. I bought a 10-dollar sandwich that promised tomato, basil and mozzarella, but was really just doughy bread, a fat slab of rubbery cheese and half a slice of mealy tomato. It kind of reminded me of Seinfeld’s airport skit and the 14-dollar tuna sandwich.

On a normal day at home, I eat vegetable-based things for lunch. My ideal combo is a pile of salad leaves, some protein (usually in the form of beans or legumes) maybe some leftover roasted vegetables, if I have them, and some kind of grain.

I’ve been cooking up a batch of chickpeas once a week, which are perfect for throwing into my lunch assemblages. The smashed chickpeas topping this taco are a favorite alternative to hummus. They’re somewhat chunky in texture and have an appetizing brick red color – and flavor – that comes from smoked paprika.

smoky chickpea tacos

smoky chickpea tacos

Yield: makes 4 tacos

I won't tell if you embellish these tacos with a squirt of your favorite hot sauce...


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped white onion
  • ½ of a jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • Salt
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 – 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • 4 whole wheat tortillas, warmed
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1 ripe tomato, sliced
  • Arugula greens; a few handfuls
  • 4 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 2 limes


  1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, jalapeno and a pinch of salt until softened and fragrant. Stir in the paprika and heat in the oil 30 seconds; add the chickpeas and ¼ cup water and simmer 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and mash the chickpeas coarsely with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Add a little more water if the mixture is too thick. Taste the chickpeas and season with more salt if needed.
  3. To make a taco, spread some of the chickpeas over a tortilla. Layer with some avocado, tomato, arugula and goat cheese. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Squeeze half a lime over each taco and serve.

Burnt-Sugar Mango Chutney & Goat Cheese Naanwich

I have a thing for flatbreads of any name and nationality – pita, roti, pizza, naan or chapati – you name it and I’ll happily eat it. Or make a sandwich out of it and then eat it.

Flatbreads are easy to make, but life gets busy. I grab them ready-made at my local international foods market or the grocery store. Naan are dependably available where I shop so I’ve been keeping them on hand lately.

You don’t have to use your own homemade mango chutney to make this simple sandwich; as our friend Ina Garten would say,”storebought is fine”…but once you see how little is involved in the recipe you might be tempted to make a batch.

The first time I made this chutney I was in a big, bad hurry and I didn’t read the recipe correctly. So I went on my merry way and caramelized the sugar before adding all the ingredients. It turned out to be one of those delicious mistakes.

I think of chutney as a gateway preserve for those with the itch to “put something up”, minus the need to fuss around with sterilizing jars, lids and giant pots full of boiling sugary fruit taking up every burner on the stove .

It keeps for forever in the fridge (Okay, maybe not forever. One year. A long time.) and it can be used in glazes, marinades, salad dressings or just as the delicious condiment it is.

Burnt-Sugar Mango Chutney & Goat Cheese Naanwich

When I first made this chutney, I was in a hurry and misread the instructions. Instead of boiling sugar and water together, I cooked the sugar alone until it caramelized and then added the rest of the ingredients. My goof turned out to be a delicious one - I loved the deep color and flavor of the chutney. So I pass my recipe foible onto you.


  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons nigella seeds (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 firm mangoes (about 2 pounds), peeled , pitted and chopped
  • 3 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup peeled, grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 moist dates, pitted and chopped
  • Fine sea salt, to taste


  1. Heat the sugar in a heavy, medium saucepan, whisking over medium heat until dissolved and beginning to turn the color of butterscotch. Add the water - it will sputter so stand back.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the mango is very soft and the chutney has thickened, about 30 minutes. Taste and season little by little with up to 1/2 teaspoon salt to taste. The flavor should get brighter, not salty.Makes about 2 cups.
  3. To make the Naanwich, cut one naan bread in half. Spread one half with soft goat cheese, chopped cilantro, arugula or spinach and about 2 tablespoons mango chutney. Top with other half. Cook on an oiled, hot panini grill or heavy ridged grill pan until toasted.


Capellini Pasta with Goat Cheese and Thyme

California-Style Pasta with Thyme and Goat Cheese

Way back in the ‘80’s my favorite meal was a roast beef sandwich on a toasted “bulky” roll, which in parts of the world other than Rhode Island would be known as a Kaiser, smothered with mushrooms, piled high with salty meat and so juicy the bulky would be saturated and falling to pieces after just two bites. I’d get them at Chelo’s, a chain of local restaurants.

I’m dating myself here, but that was a quarter of a century ago. I was in high school, my hair was big, and if you’d offered me a pizza with goat cheese on it I know I would’ve looked at you funny.

At the same time, Wolfgang Puck was in Hollywood creating California cuisine – pulling pizzas out of wood-burning ovens and serving salads as entrees at his legendary restaurant Spago.

Look how we’ve grown up! I now love goat cheese, Wolfgang Puck has become as much a brand name as Chef Boyardee, and you can walk into your local mini-mart, grab a frozen Wolfgang Puck pizza, microwave it and eat it in the car (I’m not saying that’s a good thing).

The August issue of Food & Wine has a feature story about Puck, which got me interested in this recipe. Apparently, this was the first pasta dish on the menu at Spago and put goat cheese on America’s culinary map.

I haven’t had a roast beef sandwich in years, but I did have a look at the 2007 Chelo’s menu – the sandwich is still there – along with Asian grilled salmon on California mesclun greens.

Capellini with Goat Cheese, Thyme and Toasted Pine Nuts

Inspired by Wolfgang Puck

12 ounces dried capellini pasta
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces soft goat cheese
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Thyme sprigs, for garnish

Cook the capellini in a large pot of boiling salted water.

Meanwhile, bring the broth to a boil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the thyme and simmer until reduced by half. Lower heat, stir in the butter and goat cheese until melted and smooth.

Drain the capellini and add to the skillet, tossing to coat with sauce.

Twirl the capellini into portions with a large serving fork or tongs and place on individual plates. Sprinkle with pine nuts and garnish with thyme, if you like.

Serves 4-6.

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