Chickpeas the star of The Nile

May 18, 2012 8:35:32 PM PDT
Just as beef, sausage and cheese might be the pillars of true Chicago food, chickpeas form the foundation in the Middle East.

Few restaurants serve more of them than The Nile, which spent a dozen years on 63rd street, before moving to Bridgeview.

Their love of chickpeas and olive oil is evident on every table.

Don't be fooled for a minute that, despite the enormous vertical spits of beef and chicken shawarma, this is somehow representative of the vast menu at The Nile Restaurant, which has been around for 25 years, the last 13 in a Bridgeview strip mall. True, they do sell quite a few plates of kababs and charred vegetables over yellow rice, but the real star here is the humble chickpea.

"Chickpeas are very, very important. Just about everything that we do here involves chickpeas in some way or another," said Basem Hindi, owner of The Nile.

At their most elemental, they are used in the restaurant's ultra creamy and thick hummus, but unlike most restaurants, they don't begin with canned chickpeas.

"We get it dry, we soak it, we boil it and we add tahina sauce to it and some salt and that does the trick," said Hindi.

At that point, they're spread thick onto a plate, then given a mound of even more cooked chickpeas, dotted with sumac, parsley, a ladle of jalapeno-laced hot sauce and a healthy drizzle of olive oil.

The other primary use is for falafel. The Nile makes the typical fried balls, which are fine dipped into tahini sauce or on their own..

But the truly unique version is the stuffed falafel. They begin with some of the ground chickpeas, then add a shallow layer of cooked onions, sumac and garlic, and finally, cover the filling with more ground chickpeas. A quick dip in sesame seeds gives it a special designation. Hindi says this type of falafel is common throughout the Mid-East.

"Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Palestine all have this in common," he said.

Fatah is another common dish. Water-soaked pita is combined in a large bowl with scoops of hummus, cooked chickpeas and slivered almonds seasoned with fresh yogurt, sumac and olive oil. Speaking of which, oil also plays a big role here,just take a look at the foul. This typical breakfast consists of mashed fava beans, a dollop of chickpeas and hot sauce, plus a final flourish of olive oil.

"A lot of these dishes come with a lot of olive oil. People love olive oil in these dishes," said Hindi.

For dessert, be sure to hit The Nut House for dry, roasted nuts and Turkish delight.

The Nut House
7281 W. 87th St., Bridgeview
(708) 233-6887
http://www.thenuthouseusa.com/


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