Garbanzo beans, or chickpeas as they're also called, are a staple throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East and India. Like other legumes, they are highly nutritious and an inexpensive source of high-quality protein. Garbanzo beans are available canned, but like most other beans they are best when bought dry.
Spread the garbanzos on a clean counter top and pick through them, removing any pebbles or other foreign objects. Discard any garbanzos that are wizened, darkened or look insect damaged.
Gather up the garbanzos and pour them into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with enough cold water to cover them to a depth of 2 inches. Soak the beans for 12 hours or overnight.
Add salt or baking soda to the soaking water, if desired. Food science writer Harold S. McGee determined by experimentation that salted soaking water improves the flavor of the beans, and shortens the cooking time. Baking soda also shortens the cooking time, though it can produce an unpleasantly "soapy" flavor unless the beans are thoroughly rinsed.
Drain the garbanzos in a colander. Rinse with cold water. If you have used baking soda in the soaking water, refill the bowl and allow the beans to soak for 10 minutes, then drain and rinse them again. The beans are now ready for cooking.
Pick through the garbanzos as described previously, and place them in a large bowl. Cover them with boiling water, to a depth of 2 inches.
Soak the beans for one to two hours, as time permits. Salt or baking soda may be added to the soaking water, if desired. The beans will plump up, just as they do with the traditional overnight soaking in cold water.
Drain the beans in a colander and rinse them thoroughly with cold water. If you have used baking soda in the soaking water, soak the beans for 10 minutes in fresh cold water, and then once more. The beans are now ready for cooking.
Garbanzos will cook much more quickly if the skins are removed after soaking. This optional step is admittedly tedious, but it's the sort of thing that can be done in your favorite chair while you watch TV.
Garbanzos may be soaked and then frozen for later use, allowing you to cook them whenever you want without the time involved in soaking.
Once soaked the garbanzos are perishable. If they are not used immediately, they can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for later use.