Arbes is a traditional Jewish recipe for boiled and seasoned chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Though simple, this delicious dish is highly nutritious and incredibly moreish!
If, like me, you’ve always assumed that Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews had the monopoly on delicious chickpea recipes – with humous, falafel etc – you might be surprised to learn about arbes.
Arbes is a very Ashkenazi chickpea dish that I first ate several years ago. It was one of a number of snacks left in the ‘Shabbos fridge’ for Jewish patients and their visitors, while my Dad was in hospital.
The Shabbos Room
The hospital where my Dad was a patient had a ‘Shabbos Room‘. I don’t live in an area with a big Jewish population so I’d never come across this concept before. However it seems these rooms aren’t uncommon in places with lots of Jewish residents.
This small room contained a little table and two chairs, and a sink, kettle and fridge. It was well stocked with everything you might need to make a reviving hot drink, plus kosher snacks of all kinds, fruit, cookies, instant noodles and so on. There were magazines and books. It was a little Jewish island of calm in the midst of a large, busy hospital.
On Friday afternoon a volunteer would set up a hotplate in the Shabbos room and fill it with single-serving foil trays of chicken soup, cholent and kugel. There would be challah rolls on the counter. And the fridge would be stacked with pots of egg and onion, chopped liver, coleslaw, herring, and so on. Some of these pots also contained arbes.
The first time I tasted these simple, seasoned chickpeas, I was hooked. I had no idea at the time just what a delicious and traditional food arbes is.
What are arbes?
So just what are arbes?! And what makes them so great?
Arbes – אַרבעס – literally means ‘peas’ in Yiddish, although the dish is made with chickpeas, sometimes called garbanzo beans, and not with green peas/garden peas. The chickpeas are boiled until very soft, then drained and seasoned with salt and black pepper. That’s it!
To make them even easier, you can use canned chickpeas. Then it’s simply a case of draining off the liquid, rinsing, and adding the seasoning.
Chickpeas – a global phenomenon!
Chickpeas are legumes, closely related to beans and peas. The chickpea is one of the oldest cultivated legumes, having been grown in the Middle East for at least 9,000 years!
Chickpeas (aka garbanzos) are an important ingredient in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian cuisine. However due to their easy portability when dried, and excellent nutritional qualities, they have been widely traded and are now eaten around the world. Chickpea dishes are found in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia, and across Europe. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find them cropping up in classic Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.
In terms of their nutrition, chickpeas contain excellent amounts of protein and dietary fibre. They are high in folate (vitamin B6) and manganese, and contain moderate amounts of iron, phosphorus, zinc and other B vitamins.
Arbes – Ashkenazi flavours
There’s definitely a joke to be made here about bland Ashkenazi food.
DH jokes that the only acceptable Ashkenazi spices are pepper in savoury food and cinnamon in sweets. And he may have a point! But that’s not to say that you can’t make totally delicious things with just a very few seasonings, as these chickpeas demonstrate.
Honestly, the first time I tasted arbes I couldn’t stop eating them – so good! I was sure there had to be some other ingredient that I had overlooked. It couldn’t just be chickpeas, salt and pepper – could it?!
Well, the answer is yes. Yes it could.
Salt and pepper – classic seasonings
There’s a reason that salt and pepper are the most commonly used seasonings! In a dish of arbes, the salt brings out the delicious flavours of the chickpeas, while the pepper adds a spicy kick that makes these tasty morsels so moreish.
Some people add a pinch of sugar, although I think that’s weird to be honest. I save sugar for sweet dishes. You can also find ‘chilli arbes’ with – you guessed it – hot chilli instead of black pepper.
Personally I think the chickpeas are best with just regular salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Simplicity = perfection.
When to eat arbes
Arbes are traditionally served at a Shalom Zachor – a party made on the first Friday night after the birth of a son. Arbes sounds like the Hebrew word ‘arbeh‘ – to multiply – as in the Biblical promise to Abraham to “multiply your seed like the stars of heaven”.
Chickpeas are also eaten on Purim, remembering the tradition that Queen Esther ate only vegetarian foods while living in the palace of Achashverosh.
Personally, I think that arbes are too yummy to relegate to just a few times a year! Their simplicity and deliciousness warrant putting them on the menu much more often than that!
I recommend adding a bowl of arbes to any selection of salads, cold appetisers, or similar. They are deliciously simple and a very easy way to add an extra dish when you have company!
Hospital respite rooms
The Shabbos room I mentioned above, and others like it, are sometimes called ‘hospital respite rooms’ as they offer a much-need break from the busyness, stress and worry that a hospital stay entails, both for patients and their loved ones.
I cannot emphasise enough what an amazing resource the Shabbos room was for my family. My Dad was very seriously ill and my family was with him around the clock. Having a little sanctuary to escape to, where we could make a cup of tea and take a breath before returning to his bedside, was invaluable.
The food was an added bonus! We could get real, kosher food, at any hour of the day or night. No nasty vending-machine snacks. No having to remember to take something with us ‘just in case’. We were able to look after ourselves easily, and give our main focus to looking after Dad.
If you would like to sponsor the Shabbos room at the hospital where my Dad was a patient, or another Manchester hospital, click here.
To sponsor a Shabbos room in a London hospital, click here.
Hooray for Ashkenazi chickpeas!
While these Ashkenazi chickpeas might not be as well-known as their Sephardic/Mizrachi cousins humous and falafel, they absolutely hit the spot for me! I hope you’ll try them and see just how delicious they can be.
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Arbes – Ashkenazi chickpeas
- 400 g tin chickpeas (see notes)
- ½-1 teaspoon flaky salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Drain the chickpeas (you can save the liquid for use in baking if you like). Rinse well in cold water. Tip out onto a clean tea towel or some paper kitchen towels and blot dry.
- Place the chickpeas in a bowl. Add the salt and several good grinds of pepper. Mix well.
- Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.
More delicious recipes using chickpeas
If you love all things chickpeas, why not try some of these tasty recipes:
- Cumin roasted beets and chickpeas
- Vegan cauliflower and chickpea curry
- Middle Eastern chickpea salad from Tin and Thyme
- Garlic and herb roasted chickpeas from Eats Amazing
- Roasted carrot hummus from Hungry Healthy Happy
- Falafel waffles from Veggie Desserts
I have linked up to #CookBlogShare run by Sisley & Chloe and was hosted by Chloe at Feast Glorious Feast.
So good! I’ve made hummus and roasted chickpeas but never considered having them in their more simpler form – silly me!
Thanks Chloe. Yes, I love how simple and easy they are – and tasty!
Ooh, I’ve never heard of a Shabbos room in a UK hospital before. What a lovely idea. Also never heard of arbes. But we’re all so obsessed with big bold flavours these days, that sometimes simple is just what we need.
Kate - Gluten Free Alchemist
Wow! So simple but absolutely delicious! They will definitely be on my table very soon. Thanks for sharing x
Thanks Kate – glad you enjoyed them!
What a fabulous idea for a hospital sanctuary. This simple dish says it all, full of flavour and nutrition with no fuss.
Thanks Janice. Yes, that room was truly amazing at a very difficult time.
I made these chickpeas over the weekend and they are delicious! The perfect salty snack to keep on hand!
That’s great to hear Tayler – so glad you enjoyed them.
What a simple yet yummy snack. I never thought about chickpeas as a snack but more as a something to add in a stew or to make hummus. Definitely trying this. Thank you!
Thanks Maggie. They’re so good on their own, it’s good to give them a chance to shine!
I love how simple this recipe is! Such a great snack!
Thanks Jen – it really couldn’t be simpler!
Salt and pepper do wonders to humble chickpeas! I love it as a healthier snack, that doesn’t require any cooking or prep!
Thanks Ieva. You’re right, this is a great healthy snack.
This is seriously amazing! A new staple at my house!
Thanks Toni! We love it too – so simple, and so tasty 🙂