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Eric Akis: Chickpeas boost Greek salad to make it focus of meal

Salad offers good nutrition, with vegetables and chickpeas providing fibre and a range of minerals and vitamins
This version of Greek salad is stocked with chickpeas. You can serve it with grilled meats, such as lamb. ERIC AKIS

I’ll sometimes build a meal around a side salad — one that’s so flavourful and colourful that, when it’s served with a simply cooked protein and a few other easy additions, it creates a very appealing meal.

Sometimes that salad will be a more fanciful creation. That’s exactly what I did in today’s recipe for Greek salad, adding golden chickpeas that brought another hue to the already attractive salad, stocked with ripe tomatoes, green cucumber, red onions, creamy white feta cheese and black kalamata olives.

The salad also offers good nutrition, with the mixture of vegetables and chickpeas providing fibre and a range of minerals and vitamins.

I served the salad with thick lamb chops. I brushed the chops lightly with olive oil, seasoned them with rosemary, flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and grilled them on my barbecue over medium-high heat, about three to four minutes per side.

If you don’t care for lamb or prefer to serve something else, other proteins that will work include grilled chicken breast, chicken, beef or pork kebabs, and grilled or roasted salmon fillets or steaks. You could also serve the salad with grilled, homemade, mushroom and vegetable kebabs.

To round out the meal, you could serve the salad and lamb, other protein or mushroom and vegetable kebabs with such things as tzatziki, boiled miniature potatoes and warm wedges of pita bread.

Greek Salad with Chickpeas

This twist on Greek salad, rich with a mix of vegetables, feta cheese, olives, oregano and lemon/olive oil dressing, also includes nutritious chickpeas.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: four to five servings

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 to 3 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried oregano (see Eric’s options)

1 or 2 large garlic cloves, minced

• pinch or two red pepper flakes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed in cold water, and then drained well again (see Eric’s options)

1/4 English cucumber, cubed

2 ripe, red on-the-vine tomatoes, cubed

1 medium green bell pepper, cubed

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced (see Eric’s options)

100 grams feta cheese, coarsely crumbled

16 to 20 kalamata olives

Place the lemon juice, oil, oregano, garlic, pepper flakes, salt and black pepper in a medium to large bowl. Add the chickpeas, cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion, feta cheese and olives and toss combine. Cover and refrigerate salad until ready to serve. It can be made a few hours in advance. Gently toss again, before serving.

Eric’s options: In addition to the oregano, if you like mint, you could add some, chopped fresh or dried, to the salad, to taste. If your red onion is very strong tasting, before tossing it into the salad, mellow its flavour by soaking the sliced onion in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain the onions well and then use in the salad.

If you want to use dried chickpeas for the salad instead of canned, set 2/3 cup dried chickpeas in a bowl, cover them with a generous amount of cold water and soak eight hours, or overnight. Drain soaked chickpeas, then set in a pot. Add six cups of fresh cold water, set pot over medium-high heat and bring chickpeas to a boil. Reduce heat until chickpeas gently simmer. Simmer chickpeas for 60 to 70 minutes, or until they are tender, but still nicely holding their shape. Drain chickpeas well, let them cool, and they are ready to use.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.