Fried Chickpeas Are The Best Crouton Swap For Protein-Packed Salads

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are a savory staple in Mediterranean dishes like hummus and falafel. But, the tasty legumes can be used in so much more. Simmer them in soups, blend them up to make veggie burgers, or roast them for a deliciously simple snack. Even better, you can add them to your salads. Fry them until they're crispy on the outside but still soft and tender on the inside for a flavorful crouton alternative that's as crunchy as it is irresistible.

In addition to being bold in taste and crunch, the powerhouse ingredient also lends a nutritious kick to each and every bite of salad. Two tablespoons of chickpeas contain a little over five grams of protein and about three grams of dietary fiber. In comparison, the average bag of Target's store brand variety of seasoned croutons features zero dietary fiber and less than one gram of protein per two tablespoons. 

Garbanzo beans are also a good source of B vitamins and certain minerals like iron and phosphorus, which makes for yet another good reason to give these crispy chickpea salad toppers a try.

Fry chickpeas for a crunchy salad topper

Nutritional value aside, one of the great things about fried chickpeas is that they're quick and easy to make. All you have to do is crack open a can of garbanzo beans, toss them in a pan along with some heated cooking oil, and then fry them until they're a deep golden brown. It's as simple as that. Of course, there are a few tips that will help streamline the process — the most important of which is to stir the chickpeas frequently to ensure they don't stick and burn. And, after they've achieved that lip-smacking crisp, you can rid any excess oil from the legumes by blotting them on a paper towel before adding them to your salad for a protein-rich crunch.

To make the cooking process even faster, you should opt for canned or jarred, which come pre-cooked. Otherwise, you'll have to soak the dried garbanzo beans overnight or simmer them on the stove for a few hours before cooking them. Whether you decide to make canned chickpeas or to soak and cook the dried variety, you should always drain them and be sure to pat them dry with a paper towel or clean dishcloth before frying them in the skillet, which will help ensure they get nice and crispy. Plus, dry beans are less likely to pop hot oil and cause burns.

Get creative with the seasonings

When it comes to this tasty crouton swap, the flavor options are endless. Once the chickpeas are done sauteing, all you have to do is toss them in any seasoning of your fancy. Get creative with a variety of herbs and spices — toss them in a blend of garlic and Italian herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme for a classic breadcrumb flavor. Or, for a cheesier option perfect for pairing with Caesar or ranch dressing and the like, toss the fried chickpeas in some nutritional yeast along with your favorite herbs.

You can also opt for even bolder flavors if you choose to enjoy the fried chickpeas in snack form. Try coating the garbanzo beans in paprika and cayenne pepper for a smoky, spicy kick. You can also take the heat up a notch by tossing them with red pepper flakes, or make your garbanzos con chile for an addictive take on the classic Mexican treat of chile-lime spiced peanuts.