Balila is a warm chickpea appetizer with a rustic homey comfort feel. It’s one of the staples of the traditional Lebanese mezze spread. I would chose balila over hummus any day!
The chickpeas are overcooked and they melt in your mouth with garlic, cumin and olive oil aromas. I season up my interpretation of this dish to brighten it up a little bit, adding a few drops of lemon juice.
Some people like to mash the balila with a fork before scooping a bite with the fresh soft pita bread and others like to add toasted pita pieces to the dish and eat it in a more “conventional” way as in with a fork or spoon and not with your hands! Both versions are absolutely delicious, it really depends if your in a mood for crunchy textures or need softness all around.
BALILA (rustic warm chickpea appetizer)
Recipe Credits: Rafaella Sargi
Serves 4 to 6
1 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter)
¼ cup pine nuts
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 garlic clove, grated
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons chickpea cooking liquid
1 teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil (for serving)
Fresh pita bread, pita chips or crackers (for serving)
Cayenne pepper (optional)
You will need one small frying pan, a small plate lined with paper towels, a medium pot, a slotted spoon, a small whisk, a silicone spatula, a medium bowl and a grater.
In a small frying pan, melt the ghee on high heat then add the pine nuts. Lower the heat to medium and toast the pine nuts mixing constantly until uniformly brown. Pour the content of the pan on the dish lined with paper towels. Set aside.
If using dried chickpeas: Soak overnight in triple their volume of water. On the following day: drain the soaking water and rinse the chickpeas. Put the chickpeas in a pot with room temperature water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let it cook for 45 minutes. Drain the water out, rinse the chickpeas and return to the pot with a new amount of clean room temperature water (getting rid of the first “boiling” water helps with the digestion according to my mom!) Return the semi-cooked chickpeas to the pot, cover with water and bring back to a boil, lower the heat and let it cook until completely soft (you should be able to easily smash a chickpea between your fingers). The cooking time really depends on the age of the original dried chickpea, its size, if you used baking soda during soaking etc…
If using canned chickpeas: Drain the can water out, rinse the chickpeas and put them in a medium pot, fill with room temperature water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let it cook until chickpeas are completely soft. You can test by smashing one between your index finger and your thumb. It should have a mashed potato consistency.
>> Regardless of the method you end up using: do not discard the “last-step-cooking” liquid. You need it for the recipe!
In a medium bowl, whisk the grated garlic, salt and half of the extra virgin olive oil. Remove the hot cooked chickpeas using a slotted spoon and ad them to the garlic oil mixture. With a silicone spatula gently blend everything together trying not to break and smash the chickpeas too much. Add the rest of the olive oil, 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, cumin, allspice, and lemon juice. Slowly mix again, taste and correct seasoning. Serve with toasted pine nuts a few additional drizzles of extra virgin olive oil, fresh pita bread (or pita chips). You can also add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper!